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Bulls fall to top-ranked Huskies in regular-season finale

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USF’s Courtney Williams and UConn’s Breanna Stewart met several times under the hoop Monday night. (Photo courtesy of John Kersten)

In what was their closest conference game of the season, the Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team defeated South Florida by 23 points, capping off the regular season. 

The Huskies (29-1, 18-0) have pummeled through opponents all season long with an average 50.2 margin of victory in conference play prior to Monday’s 88-63 victory against the USF Bulls.

They are in the midst of a hunt for a third consecutive national championship. They are riding a 28-game win streak.

But UConn head coach Geno Auriemma still thinks there is room for improvement.

“The score is irrelevant,” Auriemma said. “What I’m measuring my team up against is, we went four and a half minutes without scoring in one stretch. Well, if we’re supposed to be the best team in the country, how do you do that?”

Junior forward Breanna Stewart led UConn by scoring a season-high 29 points in the game, recording 11 rebounds and had seven blocks, a career high.

“I think the way we’ve progressed and the way we’ve grown as individuals, that goes a long way and that’s going to help us out a lot going into the conference and NCAA tournament,” Stewart said.

Stewart, 20, has been crowned the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player for the past two seasons and was named the 2014 ESPNW and AP player of the year.

“Look, Stewie is the best player in the country…” Auriemma said. “You know how I know Stewie’s the best player in the country? There are 365 Division I coaches. If you put a gun to their head and say ‘you can only have one player in America, who would you take?’ And anybody who took anybody other than Stewie, they should just pull the trigger.”

Stewart agreed with her coach and is ready to prove it for a third straight year.

“That’s what I want to hear and that’s the kind of confidence I have in myself,” Stewart said. “I’m working to be the best player in the country and I want to show people I’m the best player in the country.”

Despite the Bulls losing by double digits, it was the second most points scored on UConn this season.

“(USF) is a really good team,” Auriemma said. “There’s some teams we play and they really don’t have the people or the coaching to keep up with us, but these guys are good.”

Auriemma, a nine-time NCAA championship coach, credited Bulls guard Courtney Williams, who scored 26 points in the loss, by saying she is one of the hardest players in the country to guard.

“She’s not easy to just keep bottled up for long stretches at a time,” Auriemma said. “She’s got her mid-range game as good as anybody’s that I’ve seen.

Williams led the American Athletic Conference (AAC) in scoring and ranked 20th nationally (in front of Stewart), averaging 20.7 points per game.

The Bulls (24-6, 15-3) set a school record for the most wins in a regular season and will head into AAC tournament as the No. 2 seed, hoping to get another shot at the top-ranked Huskies.

“Hopefully we play them two more times,” Williams said, thinking about a national championship. “I’m excited, I’m ready for it.”

 

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