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AAC Championship: Can USF upset 'beatable' UConn?

For the third straight year, the UConn Huskies are playing in the American Athletic Conference Championship game. For the second year in a row, their opponent will be the South Florida Bulls, who have played them as close as any team this season. Can the Bulls put together two complete halves of basketball to give the Huskies a game?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Uncasville, CT -- After nine games in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, the rematch is set: top-seeded and top-ranked UConn will face off against South Florida Monday night for the conference championship.

This match-up should sound familiar; not only are the Huskies and Bulls the two best teams in the American, who have already played twice this season, but they also met in the conference championship game last year. UConn won that game, 84-70, their second-consecutive conference title.

The Huskies went on the road in January and won the first match-up against South Florida by 16. Then, when the Bulls came to Gampel Pavilion, where UConn won again, this time by 20.

Not only are the Huskies going for their third conference championship in as many years, but they also are yet to lose a game in the recently-formed American Athletic Conference. UConn is 54-0 in AAC regular season games, and are 8-0 in conference tournament games since joining the conference in 2013.

Despite the fact that the Huskies are still unbeaten on the year (31-0), one South Florida player is definitely excited to get another crack at the top team in the nation.

"I think our mindset is that, they're beatable," Bulls guard Courney Williams said, following her team's 64-46 semifinal win over Temple. "We beat them in the first half, we let up in the third, and they made shots. They're going to do that. We just have to answer. If we could have went bucket for bucket (with them in the second half), we could have won the game. So I think that showed us this team is beatable, and we have the potential to beat them."

Yes, you read that correctly: South Florida had a lead over UConn at Gampel Pavilion at the exact half way point of their game. While it is not much of a feat, the Bulls are the only team that can say they accomplished that this season.

That second meeting between these two teams was exactly a week ago, so to say these two teams are familiar with each other is an understatement. Some things have changed for both teams since then.

Maybe most importantly, the top of the calendar now reads March, marking a month of the year when upsets are actually fathomable. Anything can happen in March. The problem is no team has been able to put together two nearly-perfect halves of basketball against these Huskies yet this season, and that is no coincidence.

UConn adjusts better than any team in the country, and of course, that is always easier for a team to do when they have the personnel coach Geno Auriemma does. One of the players who seems to be playing her best just in time for the tournament is Morgan Tuck, or "Tournament Tuck" as some might call her.

"The biggest thing about Morgan is she's just really an efficient player, and she doesn't need a lot of shots to get a lot of things accomplished," Auriemma said. "She had been struggling for a while, she just couldn't get anything to go her way. She started coming out of it a little in the South Florida game, and (against East Carolina in the quarterfinals), she looked like her old self.

"When you got her and (Breanna) Stewart both playing at a pretty high level, they play off each other so well. We are not going to win the remaining games that we want to win unless Morgan plays great like she did today."

Speaking of players that have come alive in the tournament for the Huskies, freshman Katie Lou Samuelson has picked up her play come tournament time, and might need a catchy new nickname with the work "tournament" in it if she keeps this up into the NCAA Tournament.

"Lou is pretty tough kid, and she's pretty competitive," Auriemma said after his teams win over East Carolina in the quarterfinals. "It usually comes out when she's pushed, and the more she's pushed the more she responds. I'm expecting her to play better (Sunday), and play better Monday. She's used to big games."

It is safe to say Auriemma was right about ‘Lou' so far. In Sunday's semifinal against Tulane, Samuelson scored 17 points on top of the 16 she scored against East Carolina in the quarterfinals. Samuelson has shot a combined 12-17 from the floor in her last two games, and says she appreciates what Auriemma has said about her.

"Its good to know that (Auriemma) has confidence in me," Samuelson said. "I just keep trying to do whatever I can so he keeps that confidence in me, because I know how quickly that can go away. Knowing that he's comfortable with me out there feels really good. It's probably one of the reasons I'm playing the way I am."

South Florida has had their own player stand out in her last two games, and she actually made some history in the process. Williams set an AAC Tournament record for points in a game when she scored 29 in the quarterfinals against SMU. Williams added 22 points, including 20 in the second half, of her team's semifinal win over Temple.

Williams will have to be more consistent in Monday night's match-up against the Huskies if she wants to try to hand the three-time defending National Champions their first loss of the season. Her coach says playing for a conference championship was one of their goals coming into the season.

"We've had two very good games against (UConn)," South Florida Head Coach Jose Fernandez said. "Familiarity is there, just because we saw them last Monday, but we'll see. Our kids are going to be excited to play them again, and for the chance to play for a conference championship."