No. 3 Connecticut can finally focus on a Big East rematch against No. 2 Notre Dame.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored a career-high 32 points and Stefanie Dolson added 25 on Saturday as the Huskies tuned up for a highly anticipated regular season-ending showdown with an 85-51 rout of South Florida that sends coach Geno Auriemma and his players to South Bend, Ind., eager for their next challenge.
The Irish beat UConn 73-72 on the road two months ago. A possible share of the conference regular season championship will be at stake on Monday night.
"We needed to take care of Saturday before thinking about Monday. With a quick turnaround, we were more concerned about how we were going to conduct ourselves today," said Auriemma, whose team didn't arrive in Tampa until late Friday and had to rise early for a noon tipoff.
"We didn't get off to a good start, that's for sure," Auriemma added. "But I told the team afterward - Kaleena and Stefanie, the two of them played like All American-type players. Our whole focus was on today, getting better and building some momentum not necessarily for just Monday night, but for next weekend and beyond."
Mosqueda-Lewis paced Huskies (27-2, 14-1) by making 11 of 23 shots, including six 3-pointers. Dolson matched her career-best for points by going 8 for 11 from the field, making all nine of her free throws and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Saturday's victory was the 15th in 16 games since the loss to Notre Dame, with the lone stumble during the stretch a six-point setback against No. 1 Baylor.
"We tried different things, experimented with different things," Auriemma said. "In the end, we came down here to get a win against a really good team that's been playing well lately. I think we're leaving here feeling pretty good about ourselves."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson combined for 42 points in the opening half to help the Huskies to a 50-31 advantage at the break. South Florida (19-9, 8-7) missed 10 of its first 11 shots before whittling away most of a double-digit deficit that gave Bulls fans inside the Sun Dome hope for a competitive game.
But with Dolson dominating inside and Mosqueda-Lewis making her presence felt from behind the 3-point line, UConn rebuilt the lead. The Huskies closed the first half with a 14-4 burst featuring a pair of open 3's by Mosqueda-Lewis and four free throws from Dolson.
Inga Orekhova led cold-shooting USF with 13 points. Andrea Smith and Alisia Jenkins each scored 10.
The loss capped a disappointing week for the Bulls, who had hoped they would be rewarded with a spot in the Top 25 after beating a pair of ranked conference opponents - Louisville and Syracuse - within a four-day span.
A loss at Rutgers on Tuesday stopped a three-game winning streak. The loss to UConn eliminates any chance of the Bulls, who finish the regular season at Georgetown, cracking the Top 25 for the first time.
"Monday's a must win for us to get to the NCAA tournament," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "We've got two Top 25 wins, but I've been in this place before. When you're 8-8 or 9-9 (in the conference) and on the bubble, it's not a good place to be."
The closest USF got in the second half was 17, when it scored first coming out of the break. The Bulls wound up shooting 25.4 percent from the field, including 4 of 22 from behind the 3-point line.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance," Fernandez said. "You can't shoot 26 percent from the floor against a top 5 team, and you can't shoot as poorly from the free-throw line as we did and ... expect to have a chance to win."
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