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Champions again: UConn wins 3rd straight AAC Title

The UConn Huskies didn't look very Husky-like in the first quarter, but turned things around to claim their third-straight American Athletic Conference Championship by beating South Florida. The Bulls won the first quarter, but were unable to keep pace throughout, as they lose to the Huskies in the conference championship game for the second straight year.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Uncasville, CT -- The UConn Huskies are back in a very familiar spot. For the third consecutive year, the Huskies are American Athletic Conference champions, after overcoming a rough first quarter against to beat the South Florida Bulls, 77-51.

American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Breanna Stewart lead all scorers with 22 points, but she did not have to carry the load offensively by herself. Katie Lou Samuelson pitched in 13 points, while Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck added 12 and 11 points respectively.

The Huskies made it tough for the Bulls Courtney Williams, holding her to only two first half points. Williams needed 18 shots to score 16 points.

"The majority of the shots South Florida got tonight; they had to work really hard to get," UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was the right people shooting the ball from the right places we wanted them shooting from. We just really helped each other, and communicated (on defense). There was a little bit of a different look in their eyes tonight."

South Florida threw the first punch, scoring the first five points of the game. UConn's first bucket came over three minutes into the first quarter, as things would be tough for the Huskies in the first ten minutes. The Bulls lead by as many as five in the first, but only had a one-point lead heading into the second.

"I thought we defended well, and we were up after the first (quarter)," South Florida Head Coach Jose Fernandez said. "The second quarter, transition defense hurt us."

UConn seemed to settle in on offense, while also picking up the intensity on the defensive end. The Huskies scored 19 of the first 24 points in the second quarter, opening up a 13-point lead with a little over a minute left in the half.

Katie Lou Samuelson found her stroke in the second, hitting back-to-back threes during UConn's monster 19-2 run. The Huskies held South Florida to ten points, and took a 36-24 lead into the break.

The runs continued to come for the Huskies in the third quarter, thanks to their defense. UConn went on a 13-4 run in the first four minutes after halftime, as Kia Nurse scored five quick points: one layup off a Stewart steal, and a corner three in transition after a South Florida miss.

"In the second half, we wanted to make sure we came out just as strong as we finished the first half," Stewart said. "We knew they were going to try to make a run, and I thought our defense really stopped them from doing that."

The Huskies 19-point lead would not last for long, as Courtney Williams started to catch fire. After scoring only two points in the first half, Williams scored ten straight for the Bulls in the third. UConn answered with five points by Stewart to end the quarter, pushing the lead back to 19.

The Huskies would not let up in the fourth. UConn went on a 12-3 run to begin the final quarter, pushing their lead to 28. South Florida was never able to get the game back within reach.

"It starts on defensive end, and then it carries over into the offensive end," Auriemma said. "We just need a five-minute run, and that kind of gets us some separation. That puts pressure on the other team, so does our defense, but then the way we score so often during those runs, that puts pressure on them to make shots.

"That's kind of the way the game went in the second half."

South Florida has been to the past two American Championship games, but was been unable to beat UConn in either.

"I thought (UConn) did a very good job tonight on both ends of the floor," Fernandez said. "I thought they shared it really well on the offensive end, and they did a really good job of getting the ball where they wanted to, especially in the paint. They've won as many games in a row (as they have) for a reason.

"They're a very good basketball team, but I think we have a very good basketball team as well."