HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut had just six scholarship players healthy enough to play against South Florida. That's all the Huskies needed.
Breanna Stewart tied a career high with 29 points and Bria Hartley added 26 as the top-ranked Huskies beat South Florida 81-53 on Sunday. Hartley hit six of her seven shots from 3-point range in putting up 20 or more points for the third consecutive game. Stewart made five 3-pointers and the Huskies (21-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) were 14 of 25 from behind the arc, making 10 of their first 11.
"The shots were falling and everything was good and we were like, 'All right, we'll just shoot 3s the rest of the game," Stewart said. "Then they stopped going in for a little bit. But getting that inside, outside awareness really makes our team difficult to guard."
Courtney Williams had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead South Florida (10-9, 5-3), which had won five of its last six games. "The way (UConn) shot the ball tonight, no one in the country had a shot to beat them," said South Florida coach Jose Fernandez. "Let me tell you right now, if Connecticut plays their best and anybody in the country plays their best, (the Huskies) are going to win."
The win was the 27th in a row for the Huskies, dating back to last season's NCAA tournament run to the program's eighth national championship. Connecticut struggled early, hitting just three of its first 12 shots from the field. The Huskies have not trailed by more than four points all season, but an Alisia Jenkins' fast-break layup gave South Florida a 9-6 lead.
A 3-pointer by Stewart put the UConn on top 14-13 just under 7 minutes into the game and they led the rest of the way. Another Stewart 3-pointer started a 16-3 run that turned a 22-20 game into a 38-23 lead.
Stewart and Hartley combined to hit 8 of 11 shots from 3-point range in the first half and UConn went into the break leading 45-27. The Huskies have trailed by a total of 31 minutes this season. UConn had 30 field goals on 25 assists.
"We really try to get those people who are hitting shots the ball more, and we did that today," said Hartley who had six of those assists. "It was just really exciting." A 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer gave the Huskies their first lead of more than 20-points at 59-37 midway through the second half. The Bulls had been holding opponents to just 59 points a game.
Connecticut's 27-game winning streak is the sixth longest streak in program history. The Huskies will play the rest of the season without sophomore forward Morgan Tuck, who announced she will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a cartilage problem in her right knee. Tuck missed eight games after going orthoscopic surgery on the knee in November. She returned but hasn't played since Jan. 7 because of a bone bruise in the area of the knee where she is missing cartilage. The school plans to ask for a medical redshirt, which would give her three more years of eligibility.
Tuck averaged 7.5 points and 2.4 rebounds this season. Tuck's loss means the Huskies will have just eight scholarship players on the roster for the rest of the season as they attempt to repeat as national champions. Guards Brianna Banks, who sprained her left ankle before Wednesday's game against Memphis, and freshman Saniya Chong also sat out.
"(Chong) told me on the bench," Auriemma said. "I was getting ready to put her in and she said, 'I don't feel good.'" The Bulls held UConn center Stefanie Dolson to just one field goal and three points, but she had eight rebounds. That gives her 928 for her career, one more than former national player of the year Kara Wolters, and good enough for sixth place on the school's all-time list.
South Florida's only loss this calendar year was by eight points to No. 5 Louisville. But the Bulls have never beaten UConn, losing their 13th straight to the Huskies on Sunday. More than 13,200 fans showed up for the game at the XL Center, the largest home crowd the Huskies have had this season by more than 3,400 fans.