UNCASVILLE, CT. 3/5/2017 – The final match is set. The American Championship game will be between UConn and The Bulls of USF, again.
# 1 Connecticut Huskies 78 # 4 UCF Knights 56
It took awhile for UConn to get going, but they did over the second and into the third quarter for consecutive victory number 105. The Huskies had a 37 – 25 lead at the break, then won the third quarter by a 24 – 12 margin to take control.
“”Nothing was easy, everything was a struggle,” said UConn Coach Geno Auriemma. “The way we responded in the third quarter was a lot if fun for me. Our players generally respond to challenges, and they did a great job of that.”
The key to quarter was that UConn got some turnovers and easy baskets. UCF was playing physical and did a good job of protecting the ball. When 3 turnovers turn into 11, that’s a problem. And Connecticut seemed to be rushing and shot the ball at a 38.7% clip in the first half. In the third quarter the ball went in 62.5% of the time (5 – 8).
“We try to crash the boards extra harder,” Huskies guard Napheesa Collier said about what the team tries to do when they are not shooting well. “We try to get other things like transition, things like that.”
Connecticut had four players score in double figures. Collier and Gabby Williams had 16 points each. Collier had a double-double pulling down 12 rebounds. Williams was one rebound shy as she grabbed 9 boards. Crystal Dangerfield scored 14 points. Katie Lou Samuelson had 12 points along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Zykira Lewis scored a game-high 22 points. Aliya Gregory had 13 points and 8 rebounds.
“We wanted to play hard on every play, be in attack mode,” said Gregory. “It really worked in the first half.”
Connecticut is 31 – 0 on the season. UCF finishes the season at 20 – 7, and there should be a post-season in their immediate future.
# 3 USF Bulls 63 # 2 Temple Owls 58
A 10 – 0 run early in the fourth quarter gave the USF Bulls the space they needed to hold off a rally by the Temple Owls to earn a berth in the American Championship final against Connecticut for the third straight year.
“It was an important game for both teams for NCAA seedings,” said USF Coach Jose Fernandez. “Our kids wanted this game, so this is the third year in a row that we are playing on Monday night. When you play in this tournament, you want to play for a championship and have this opportunity.”
Temple got to within 60 – 56 with a bit over 20 seconds to play on a three-pointer by Alliya Butts, who 17 in the game. Her two free throws got it to a three-point deficit, but it was too little too late. USF put the game away by making 10 of 14 free throws over the last three minutes.
The Temple game plan was to contain the USF guards. The offense for the Bulls ran through the inside play of Tamara Henshaw and Maria Jespersen who combined for 29 points in the game. Jespersen added a team-high 13 rebounds. Of the 15 points for Henshaw, 11 came in the first half.
“Henshaw scored a lot in the first half, but that was taking away possessions for their guards,” said Temple Coach Tonya Cardoza. “We did a good job of limiting their touches, so the option was to go inside. They had to find another option, and that’s the one they went with. She did a really good job.”
Kitija Laksa led the Bulls with 18 points.
For the Owls Feyonda Fitzgerald contributed 18 points and added 6 assists. Tanaya Atkinson recorded her 10th double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
USF goes to the final. Could this be their year?
“It’s Connecticut,” said Laksa. “You can prepare, but they always will surprise. We can make it a tough battle. It’s the third game of the year playing them. The third time is the lucky one?”