Breanna Stewart says top-ranked UConn symbolically turned the calendar to March in the second half Monday, overcoming the team's first halftime deficit in almost a year.
Stewart scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help the Huskies beat No. 20 South Florida 79-59. Kia Nurse added 15 points, all but three in the second half, for UConn (29-0, 18-0 American Athletic Conference), which was down 25-24 at the break. Stewart had 20 of her points after intermission.
"It's supposed to be March, because it's a leap year," Stewart said. "And that's the kind of game you play in March."
UConn completed the program's eighth undefeated regular season, and extended the third-longest winning streak in NCAA and program history to 66 games.
Courtney Williams scored 21 points to lead USF (21-8, 14-4).
The Huskies have won all 60 games they have played since the inception of the AAC, including the first two conference championships. The third league tournament begins Friday at the Mohegan Sun arena in Uncasville, about 30 miles south of the Storrs campus.
South Florida had already secured the second seed in that tournament.
A win in their first game on Saturday afternoon would give the Huskies their 11th straight 30-win season and 21st in program history.
Seniors Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck each had 11 points for UConn. Tuck also had eight rebounds.
Courtney Williams had 12 first-quarter points and the Bulls jumped out to a 19-15 lead. It was the second consecutive game the Huskies have trailed after 10 minutes and the third time this season.
"Coach just told us to play free and that's what we did in the first half," Williams said.
The Bulls pushed the lead to 22-17 when Laura Ferreira was fouled while taking a 3-point shot and hit all three free throws. Ferreira finished with 12 points while Shalethia Stringfield chipped in with 14.
Samuelson, who had made 15 of 25 shot from 3-point range over her previous three games, picked up three fouls in the first half. She finished with nine points and just one 3-pointer.
She wasn't the only Husky in foul trouble. Jefferson and Gabby Williams had two apiece in the first half.
UConn trailed just 25-24 at the half, despite going 3 for 18 from the floor during the second quarter. The Huskies had not been behind at halftime since being down 44-43 to Dayton in last year's NCAA regional final in Albany.
UConn outscored the Bulls 32-14 in the third quarter, confusing USF by coming out in a zone defense.
"It was like we'd never seen zone all year," said USF coach Jose Fernandez. "We didn't get the ball to the right area, hit the corner or use any dribble ups. We just stood and that took us out of some things."
UConn took its first lead since 12-10 on a layup by Stewart to open the second half. A 3-pointer from the right baseline by Nurse gave the Huskies their first 10-point lead at 42-32.
Stewart got her 2,500th career point when Samuelson found her open under the basket for a layup that gave the Huskies a 50-34 lead. She joins Maya Moore as the only Huskies to reach that plateau. Nurse's fourth 3-pointer of the game gave the Huskies a 20-point lead at 72-52 and UConn cruised from there.
Auriemma said Nurse responded after he express his displeasure with the sophomore from Hamilton, Ontario.
"We had a little chat at halftime," he said. "I said it in Canadian."
The Huskies outrebounded South Florida 45-29.
UConn is now 19-0 against USF and 225-61 all-time against ranked opponents.