The USF women’s basketball team has advanced to the American Athletic Conference finals four years in a row. Each of those games were against the nearly unstoppable UConn Huskies. On Tuesday night, #1 UConn claimed their fifth straight conference championship in a 70-54 defeat of the #19 USF Bulls.
The first quarter of the game was tight, with USF trailing by one with 11 seconds left in the period. UConn’s Kia Nurse made a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Huskies a 21-17 lead.
The damage was done in the second and third quarters, when UConn outscored the Bulls, 16-6 and 18-9, respectively. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Huskies had 55-32 lead. USF would go on to outscore UConn in the final period, but their 22 points would have come up short, even if they had kept the Huskies scoreless.
UConn shot 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. They turned the ball over just six times to the Bulls’ 14 and stole the ball a dozen times, compared to just twice for USF. Gabby Williams was strong for her team, scoring 19 and pulling down seven rebounds. Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier scored a dozen apiece. Azura Stevens came off the bench to score 13 points with seven rebounds, tying the team lead.
The Bulls’ loss came despite an impressive, 26 point performance from Kitija Laksa. Laksa scored 21 points of her total in the second half. She also set a new program record for USF, making her 118th three-pointer in the season, replacing the record of 117 previously set by Janae Stokes in the 2008-09 season. No other Bull broke into double digits, but Maria Jespersen had nine points with nine assists, just missing a double-double.
The conference announced their All-Championship Team as Crystal Dangerfield, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Gabby Williams from UConn, and Maria Jespersen and Kitija Laksa representing USF.
The Huskies will look forward to a sure-thing invitation to the NCAA tournament. They finished the season with a perfect 32-0 record.
While not as solid as a number one team, at 19, the Bulls are likely headed for some madness of their own.