TAMPA, Fla. (AP)South Florida’s Jose Fernandez is puzzled by the chatter about the struggles of the UConn women’s basketball team this season.
They’ve lost three games,” Fernandez said Sunday after falling to the fifth-ranked Huskies 67-47 before a crowd of 6,044. “How many teams around the country would like to have that record right now?”
Megan Walker scored 21 points and Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 20, helping the 11-time national champions, who had lost two of their previous three games, shrug off a slow start to improve to 30-0 all-time against Fernandez’s team.
Still, the USF coach is “very sad” that Huskies are leaving the American Athletic Conference for the Big East after this season.
Despite UConn’s dominance of the seven-year-old league, Fernandez enjoys competing against the Huskies and has developed a close friendship with Huskies coach Geno Auriemma.
“They brought great credibility to our conference,” Fernandez said.
UConn (21-3, 11-0) trailed by four at halftime, took the lead for good early in the third quarter and broke the game open by beginning the fourth quarter with a 15-2 run and holding USF (15-10, 7-4) to one field goal during a nine-minute stretch.
Aubrey Griffin came off the bench to score eight points, grab seven rebounds and key the Huskies defense with five steals.
“Aubrey really came in and changed the game,” Auriemma said of the freshman forward from Ossining, New York.
Fernandez called the game “a tale of two halves.”
Auriemma lamented his team’s season-long offensive woes.
“Our defense keeps us in most games,” the UConn coach said. “So if we can figure the offensive part out, we’ll be OK.”
In improving to 131-0 all-time against league opponents since the formation of the AAC, UConn rebounded from an 18-point loss to top-ranked South Carolina on Monday.
USF made five of six 3-pointers in the opening quarter and led 29-25 at halftime after UConn failed to hold the momentum after wiping out an eight-point deficit and wasting an opportunity to take the lead when Anna Makurat missed a layup on a fast break.
The Huskies shot just 36.1%, including 4 of 17 from 3-point range, during their loss at South Carolina, It was UConn’s third double-digit setback this season – all coming against the teams currently ranked one, two, three in the AP Top 25.
Sunday was a struggle, too, with the Huskies warming to 48.3% despite missing 11 of 15 3-pointers.
“Still, it was a five-point game going into the fourth quarter,” Fernandez said. “I thought Connecticut played at a different pace and with a different energy in the second half, offensively and defensively. … We took one uncontested three in the second half – the one we hit.”
UConn: The Huskies don’t lose often. And when they do, they’ve been resilient. The 11-time national champions haven’t lost two in a row since March 1993, and Sunday’s victory extended their streak of consecutive wins against non-ranked opponents to 205.
South Florida: The Bulls have never beaten the Huskies, who are 113-0 against AAC teams during the regular season and 18-0 in the league’s postseason tournament. USF’s chances gradually slipped away Sunday because of poor shooting. After going 5 for 6 on 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes, they missed seven of eight over the last three quarters.
SEE YOU AGAIN
The Huskies and Bulls play again in the regular-season finale March 2. Auriemma and Fernandez both expressed a desire to continue the series in the future, although it likely won’t resume until three seasons down the road.
UConn: Return home to host Tulane on Wednesday.
South Florida: at UCF on Wednesday.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25