UConn played smothering defense against South Florida for the second time in less than a week to earn a shot at a seventh consecutive American Athletic Tournament title.
Megan Walker scored 21 points Sunday to lead the fifth-ranked Huskies (28-3) to a 79-38 semifinal win over the Bulls.
UConn improved to 20-0 all-time in AAC tournament play after finishing 118-0 during the league’s seven regular seasons. The Huskies are leaving the conference to return to the Big East next season.
Christyn Williams added 15 points and Crystal Dangerfield had 13 in the semifinal win.
“Defensively, we really ramped up and it helps us offensively,” Williams said. “It helps get us in transition and it just gives us energy as a team.”
Elena Tsineke had nine points to lead South Florida (19-13), which also lost to UConn in an 80-39 blowout on Monday in the teams’ regular-season finale in Hartford.
“Throughout the whole game, we tried to take away what they wanted to do,” Walker said. “So, step in front of passes, make them go backdoor. That way we got the steals and converted on the other end.”
UConn never trailed. The Huskies held South Florida to a single field goal on 13 shots in the first quarter and led 18-5 after 10 minutes.
They built the lead to 38-17 at the half, dominating in the paint, where the Huskies outscored the Bulls 19-2 and 32-10 in the game.
Walker had 12 of her points before intermission and UConn scored 13 first-half points off 14 USF turnovers.
That defensive performance came after UConn held USF to 14 first-half points while forcing 15 turnovers in Monday’s win.
“We’ve set a record for all-time turnovers in my 20 years here this year,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “Until we get that corrected, which we will, we can’t get back to where we were.”
The Bulls didn’t get their first basket of the second half for more than six minutes. The jumper by Tamera Henshaw made the deficit 51-19. It was 56-22 after the third quarter.
UConn held South Florida to just 12 baskets on 58 shots (21 percent).
The Huskies did lose senior Kyla Irwin to injury. The reserve forward, who broke a finger earlier in the week, went down going for an offensive rebound in the third quarter and landed hard on her left arm.
Auriemma said the injury was obviously serious and she was taken to a medical facility for scans.
“She’s one of the captains of our team, we love Kyla to death,” Williams said. “So of course, that hurts.”
The team tweeted on Monday that Irwin fractured her elbow and would undergo surgery on Monday afternoon.
For the second consecutive game, UConn ignored a directive from the American Athletic Conference to forego post-game handshakes with their opponents. Auriemma and Fernandez also made a point to shake hands with each other on the interview podium after the game. Auriemma said with players sweating on each other for two hours, a post-game handshake is not going to make a difference in preventing the spread of the virus.
“We shook hands today,” he said. “I ain’t worried about it.”
TURNING IT UP
UConn freshman forward Aubrey Griffin had 10 points, scoring in double figures for the third consecutive game. She had not reached that plateau in her nine previous games.
USF: The Bulls have made it to at least the semifinals of the AAC tournament in all seven years of its existence. They’ve lost to UConn in the finals four times, and were also beaten by the Huskies in last year’s semifinals.
UConn: The Huskies will be playing Monday for their 12th conference tournament championship in the last 13 seasons. They last lost a conference tournament game in 2013, when they were beaten by Notre Dame in the Big East finals.
USF: The Bulls await a possible postseason bid.
UConn: The Huskies will play either UCF or Cincinnati for the title on Monday night.