Uncasville, CT -- The UConn Huskies, who are still yet to lose a game this season, looked "beatable" in the first quarter of the American Athletic Conference Championship game against South Florida. The Huskies went on to beat the Bulls by 26, as they reminded everyone just how good this team could play.
I put beatable in quotes because it is what one South Florida player called this Husky team after the Bulls win over Temple in the American semi-finals. Courtney Williams called UConn beatable, and it definitely supplied the three-time defending National Champions with some extra motivation.
"We saw (Williams') comments that she made (Sunday) night," Breanna Stewart said. "Any confident player is going to make those comments, but it just adds more fuel to the fire. We were ready to go."
The Huskies looked ready to go from the second quarter on, outscoring South Florida 64-37 in the final 30 minutes of the conference championship game. UConn's defense clearly was the focus in between the first and second quarters, and from there things seemed to snowball.
"It starts on the defensive end, and then it carries over into the offensive end," UConn Head Coach Geno 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 (our opponent) to make shots."
The Huskies have been going on these daunting runs for years now, and another one came in the second quarter that gave UConn the separation Auriemma talked about. The Bulls found themselves on the wrong end of a 19-2 run, and from there South Florida was unable to stop the bleeding.
While these runs show their head on the scoreboard as an offensive outburst, most of the time they are sparked on the opposite end of the floor. This year's Huskies feature many players with crazy long wingspans. Throw in a pest of a defender in Moriah Jefferson, and it seems this year's UConn team has what it takes to defend against anyone in the country.
"Stewie is a great shot blocker, so she cleans up a lot of problems," Auriemma said. "Moriah and (Morgan) Tuck, this is their fourth year, so they're really smart. Kia (Nurse) plays really, really hard. So we have some ingredient to work with, its just a matter of putting it all together. (Katie Lou Samuelson) has gotten better. We've improved a lot defensively as the season has gone on."
Auriemma went on to say defense takes effort, and the Huskies may have found another crazy physical and athletic player they can unleash in the NCAA Tournament.
"Gabby (Williams) is the kind of kid that can guard everybody on the floor, and she's exactly what we need," Auriemma said. "I remember talking to her. I said you need to come off the bench because we're going to need that win a National Championship, and (what she did on Courtney Williams tonight is what) I was talking about."
Having the personnel that UConn has at their disposal at any given game is a luxury in and of itself, but that cannot be where it stops for a team who is looking to win their fourth straight National Championship.
"We take a lot of pride in playing defense," Stewart said. "We know that we can score points, and offense comes to easier to us than to other teams. Defensively, we want to make sure we frustrate teams, don't let them get the shots that they want to get, and in turn, we'll turn that momentum to our side."
Personnel and pride. Check and check. The Huskies, in addition to those two key qualities, have also proven time and time again this season they enjoy rising to the occasion, meaning this could very well be the eleventh April where UConn will be the last team standing.
"Winning a championship is supposed to be hard," Auriemma said. "I don't care what level. When you're playing for a championship, it's supposed to be hard, and South Florida makes it hard. I think a game like (Monday's) just reminds you, this is what we're going to face the rest of the month. This is what it's going to be like, and I like the fact that when we are put in that situation, we respond."