Not every game sparkles like a diamond, even for a program that knows how to find them make them shine. Some days the other team on scholarship works tirelessly to smudge you. It happens.
But when it comes to No. 1 UConn, even a middle-of-the-road offensive performance against a jacked opponent turns into a sizeable victory in the American Athletic Conference.
Such was the case Sunday when the Huskies beat South Florida 63-38 before 6,615 at the Sun Dome.
The Huskies (26-0) were led by Bria Hartley, who scored 18 points. Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson both added 15 points and eight rebounds. Stewart needs only two more points to score 1,000th points.
Moriah Jefferson added 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
The Huskies won their 32nd straight to end the Bulls’ modest two-game winning streak. But their 22 field goals tied a season-low set at Baylor. And the 63 points were a season-low, three points fewer than they scored to beat the Lady Bears on Jan. 13.
“It was just hard for us to get into our offense,” Hartley said. “It was a grind for us. We picked up some offensive fouls. We just had to remind ourselves to keep moving.”
Stewart had to work particularly hard for everything we got. She was 6 of 12 from the field in 33 minutes, but seemed in constant scrums with defenders trying to shield her from the ball.
“Teams are going to play us physically and they are going to want us to retaliate,” Stewart said. “We can’t let ourselves do that. We have to be smart. We have to be aware that teams are going to try to push us whenever we try to cut.”
This sense of restraint will be critical for UConn as it plays on without junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (mononucleosis).
“Keep cool, keep your composure,” Hartley said.
“Really good players do not foul,” he said. “That’s what makes them good players. Really bad players, players that aren’t very bright, foul a lot because they don’t know what the heck they are doing out there. They are also late, always in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
Still, it was a good day for the USF program. Coach Jose Fernandez was back on its sidelines after spending four days in the hospital this week tending to an allergic reaction to medication.
The Bulls were led by Inga Orekhova. She scored 17 points including four three-pointers. But Courtney Williams, the Bulls leading scorer, was 3-for-18 with seven points in 30 minutes on the watch of Jefferson. And South Florida (13-11, 8-5) shot just 26.3 percent (15 of 57).
“I wanted to come out aggressively on,” Jefferson said. “She’s a great player.”
UConn returns how to play Central Florida on Wednesday at XL Center before taking off on its Texas trip to Houston (Saturday) and Southern Methodist (Tuesday). After that only two games will remain in the regular season.
Despite it not being a great offensive game for UConn, the Huskies took off on major runs in the first half to take a 27-7 lead with 6:42 to play in the first half. Then things basically came to a halt.
“I don’t think the game got into a flow, especially since we both had a week to prepare,” Fernandez said. “We gave up some transition stuff early, and then we clawed back to within 14 (27-13 with 3:44 to play in the half).
In fact, UConn limped through 6:42 – at the end of the first half, the beginning of the second – when it did not score a field goal. And they came out the other end since ahead, 34-18.
The Huskies trailed 3-2 for 48 seconds before goring the Bulls with a 14-0 run that built a comfortable margin. South Florida went nearly seven minutes after their first field goal – a three from Orekhova just 1:12 into the game – before it scored again after missing 13 straight shots.
And after two quick hoops from Shalethia Stringfield, the Huskies scored the next 11 to make it 27-7 over the next 5:45. This time, the Bulls were 0-for-6. They ended the half shooting 6-for-31 with nine turnovers in the half.
But UConn’s lead was only 32-15. The Huskies were 12 of 28 in the first half and did not have a field goal in the final 3:27. That was a three-pointer by Jefferson.
Junior guard Brianna Banks was cleared to play after missing two games with a sore ankle. She did not play until the final two minutes. From the bench came Saniya Chong, the first start in the freshman’s career. She played a career-high 37 minutes, but took only three shots and did not score.
Once again, it was a stalwart effort by UConn’s starters. They logged all between 33 and 38 important minutes, something which likely will be rote for them until Mosqueda-Lewis can return.