By PAT EATON-ROBB, AP Sports Writer
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — UConn brushed aside a physical challenge from UCF to move back into the final of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier each scored 16 points and the top-ranked Huskies beat the Knights 78-56 on Sunday to extend their NCAA-record winning streak to 106 games.
Crystal Dangerfield added 14 points and Katie Lou Samuelson had 12 for the Huskies (31-0). They will play for their fourth consecutive AAC championship on Monday night.
The Huskies have never lost to a conference opponent in the four-year history of the league.
“It was a really physical game tonight,” Williams said. “We just tried not to get caught up in that and just try to play the way that we did.”
Zykira Lewis had 22 points, and Aliyah Gregory added 13 for UCF (20-11), which lost for just the second time in nine games.
Samuelson hit a 3-pointer to start an 8-0 opening run for the Huskies and for the 20th time this season, UConn never trailed.
But UCF fought back, using all 30 seconds on the shot clock on numerous possessions and forcing UConn into quick shots on the other end.
The Huskies led just 18-14 after 10 minutes and 37-25 at the half, with Gregory and Lewis accounting for 19 of the Knights’ points.
But UConn opened the second half on a 10-2 run to build the lead to 20 and were not threatened after that.
“I thought the way we responded in the third quarter, the way we came out for the second half really was a lot of fun for me to see, because our players generally respond well to challenges,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
After shooting just 39 percent from the floor in the first half, the Huskies hit 16 of 25 shots (64 percent) in the second half, while holding UCF to 36 percent for the game.
“They were speeding us up, so one of the things we talked about was keeping them on defense a little bit longer and running our stuff,” said Collier, who also pulled down 12 rebounds for her 13th double-double this season.
“That was definitely our strategy to come out and play hard and by physical with them,” Gregory said. “We’re not afraid to play anybody, so we had to come out and be in attack mode and be ready to play with them. Sometimes that requires you to get really tough and physical with teams and that really worked for us in the first half.”