TAMPA, FLA. — Unbeaten, though not totally untested.
No. 1 UConn won its 51st consecutive game Sunday night, shrugging off a slow start to pull away to a 75-59 victory No. 22 South Florida, which has a knack for playing the three-time defending national champions tough.
Morgan Tuck had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies (14-0, 4-0 American), who extended their winning streak despite shooting 38 percent in the opening half, when USF (10-4, 3-1) led by as many as eight points before the three-time defending national champions gradually took control.
"You'd be hard pressed to find somebody who's more valuable to their team than Tuck is to us. She just makes everybody on our team better," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "The bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the more at stake, the better she plays."
Courtney Williams led USF with 26 points and 13 rebounds. Kitija Laksa followed up on a 38-point performance against SMU with 17 for the Bulls, who fell to 0-18 all-time against UConn.
The Huskies blew the game open in the fourth quarter, with Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Katie Lou Samuelson hitting 3-pointers to turn a nine-point cushion into a 62-44 lead. The Huskies led by as many as 21 before USF made one last push, trimming its big deficit to 12 while Stewart was on the bench with four fouls.
But the Huskies were never in serious danger. Stewart returned with UConn up 69-57 with 3:34 and USF was unable to get any closer.
"We know in those moments we need to score. Right here, we need to execute," Tuck said. "When that happens, a little more of a pressure situation, is when we play really well."
Kia Nurse had 16 points for the Huskies, going 4 of 8 on 3-point attempts. UConn finished 13 of 29 beyond the arc after going 4 of 14 in the first two quarters. Tuck was 9 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers.
"She's a beast out there," USF's Williams said of Tuck. "I think she's the most consistent player on their team."
UConn missed nine of its first 11 shots and trailed 14-6 before finishing the opening quarter on an 11-1 run that put the Huskies up 17-15. Tuck's 3-pointer increased the lead to 10 in the second quarter, however the defending national champions went scoreless over the final three minutes of the period to settle for a 33-28 halftime lead.
Laksa made long 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, trimming USF's deficit to 35-34 but that was as close as the Bulla would get the rest of the way. Napheesa Collier scored on the baseline to begin a 12-2 UConn surge that put the Huskies in control for good.
"Was I please with our guys effort? Yeah. We knew matchup wise it was going to be tough," USF coach Joe Fernandez said. "We got it down to one in the third quarter, and we went empty on two trips. You're not going to beat them shooting 32 percent from the floor like we did. It's not going to happen. They're very good defensively. Credit to them."
TIP-INS: UConn — The Huskies were 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc before warming up in the second half. They shot 54 percent overall after halftime, outscoring USF 42-31. South Florida — The Bulls played without forward Alisia Jenkins, who sat out with an ankle injury. She averages 12.8 points and a team-leading 13.3 rebounds per game. With her sidelined, USF was outscored 22-6 in the paint.
NO SURPRISE: UConn improved to 223-61 all-time in games against opponents ranked in the Top 25, including a 56-24 mark on the road. They've 51-10 in such games since the start of the 2008-09 season. The American has six victories vs. Top 25 teams this season, with UConn owning all of them.
BIG CROWD: Attendance was announced as a season-high 6,634. USF averaged 2,169 for its first nine home dates, with a high of 4,859. The crowd in the 10,411-seat Sun Dome was more than twice the 3,062 the USF men's team attracted against conference rival Cincinnati earlier in the day.
CLOSE, BUT ...: USF is 0-3 against ranked opponents this season. The Bulls also lost Baylor and Mississippi State.
WHAT's NEXT: UConn — The Huskies try to extend their winning streak to 52 at Memphis on Wednesday. South Florida — The Bulls travel to New Orleans to face Tulane on Wednesday.