Huskies Handle UCF in AAC Semifinal 78-56 - NBC Connecticut
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Huskies Handle UCF in AAC Semifinal 78-56

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Huskies Handle UCF in AAC Semifinal 78-56
    Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
    UConn Huskies guard Gabby Williams (15) fast breaks during the first half the American Athletic Conference Women's semi-final game between UCF Knights and UConn Huskies on March 5, 2017, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. UConn defeated UCF 78-56.

    UConn brushed aside a physical challenge from UCF to move back into the final of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

    Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier each scored 16 points and the top-ranked Huskies beat the Knights 78-56 on Sunday to extend their NCAA-record winning streak to 106 games.

    Crystal Dangerfield added 14 points and Katie Lou Samuelson had 12 for the Huskies (31-0). They will play for their fourth consecutive AAC championship on Monday night.

    The Huskies have never lost to a conference opponent in the four-year history of the league.

    "It was a really physical game tonight," Williams said. "We just tried not to get caught up in that and just try to play the way that we did."

    Zykira Lewis had 22 points, and Aliyah Gregory added 13 for UCF (20-11), which lost for just the second time in nine games.

    Samuelson hit a 3-pointer to start an 8-0 opening run for the Huskies and for the 20th time this season, UConn never trailed.

    But UCF fought back, using all 30 seconds on the shot clock on numerous possessions and forcing UConn into quick shots on the other end.

    The Huskies led just 18-14 after 10 minutes and 37-25 at the half, with Gregory and Lewis accounting for 19 of the Knights' points.

    But UConn opened the second half on a 10-2 run to build the lead to 20 and were not threatened after that.

    "I thought the way we responded in the third quarter, the way we came out for the second half really was a lot of fun for me to see, because our players generally respond well to challenges," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

    After shooting just 39 percent from the floor in the first half, the Huskies hit 16 of 25 shots (64 percent) in the second half, while holding UCF to 36 percent for the game.

    "They were speeding us up, so one of the things we talked about was keeping them on defense a little bit longer and running our stuff," said Collier, who also pulled down 12 rebounds for her 13th double-double this season.

    UConn made 15 of its 19 attempts from the foul line, while holding UCF without a free throw until there was just over minute left in the game.

    The Huskies committed just seven personal fouls, while UCF had 16.

    "That was definitely our strategy to come out and play hard and by physical with them," Gregory said. "We're not afraid to play anybody, so we had to come out and be in attack mode and be ready to play with them. Sometimes that requires you to get really tough and physical with teams and that really worked for us in the first half."

    BIG PICTURE

    UConn: The Huskies improved to 27-2 in conference semifinal games, dating to their days in the Big East. UConn will be trying to win its 22nd conference tournament title. It is 21-5 in conference championship games, including 3-0 since the inception of the American Athletic Conference.

    UCF: The Knights' win over fifth-seeded Tulane on Saturday gave the program its second 20-win season since 1985. It also was the Knights' first win in AAC Tournament play.

    "The biggest thing for me, big picture, was to train our team not to lose, and now they're to that point that they are going to fight all the way down for 40 minutes no matter what," said first-year coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.

    FREE THROWS

    The Huskies hit their first eight free throws to extend the team's streak to 31 in a row. They made all 20 Saturday against Tulsa in the quarterfinals .

    ELITE COMPANY

    Williams has scored 410 points this season and joins former UConn star Maya Moore as the only players in program history to record at least 400 points, 250 rebounds, 150 assists, 75 steals and 25 blocked shots in a single season.

    Katie Lou Samuelson hit three of her eight 3-point attempts to become the fourth player in program history to make 100 3-pointers in a season.

    UP NEXT

    UConn: The Huskies and South Florida will meet for the third straight year in the AAC championship game. The Bulls beat second-seed Temple 63-58 on Sunday. UConn won last year's matchup by 26 points and beat USF by 14 points in the 2015 final.

    UCF: Awaits a possible postseason bid.

    "We're to the point where we can pretty much play with anybody," said Abrahamson-Henderson. "It's fun to play new teams and if we do get a postseason bid that's going to be fun for us, because it's really hard to prepare for us. It's really hard to play against us in terms of our press, in terms of our match-up zone."