UNCASVILLE, CT. 3/4/2017 – The opening round is in the books with the Tulsa Golden Hurriane, Houston Cougars, and SMU Mustangs earning another game.
In the first game of the quarterfinal round UCF outlasted Tulane at the Frontier Communications American Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Top-seeded Connecticut took the floor next and had no problem with Tulsa. Temple ousted Houston, and USF survived agaisnt SMU. The top-four seeds advanced to the Sunday double-header.
#4 UCF Knights 61 #5 Tulane Green Wave 57
The largest lead in the game was 7 points, a down to the wire, grind it out game that the Knights survive and move on. The 4 – 5 match up is usually the most even game in a tournament, and this game showed why.
For UCF It was their first time to get 20 wins and made the conference semifinal round, another first.
“There are a lot of firsts,” said UCF Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “The first time we got twenty win, the first time we won a tournament game. I am proud of them that they got these firsts, and especially the seniors. They have great memories.”
Tulane held a 52 – 50 lead with 1:57 left in the 4th quarter on a traditional three-point play by Kolby Morgan. UCF got the lead back on a three-pointer by Zykira Lewis and was the start of a 7 – 0 run for the Knights. It was their 8th field goal out of 10 shots, and put the game in the win column.
“We wanted to be poised and make sure we found each other,” said Lewis. “If somebody was open, give it to them. That’s what it came down to, focusing as a team.”
The Green Wave got to win 2, but the Knights made 7 of 10 from the line to clinch it.
It was a turnover filled game with Tulane committing 25 and UCF 20, who had a 26 – 21 edge in points off turnovers.
“The last time we played them, we didn’t have a lot of turnovers, and if we could do that again, we would have a chance,” said Tulane Coach Lisa Stockton. “Turnovers were a big because we gave them too many opportunities.”
The Knights won the rebounding battle 39 – 26, and had 19 offensive boards.
Lewis scored a team-high 17 points. Forward Tolulope Omokore registered a double-double scoring 11 and pulling 10 rebounds.
“That’s my thing, rebounding,” Omokore said. “It’s important to get those boards and try to give my team a chance to score.”
Morgan led the Green Wave with a game-high 25 points.
UCF to the semifinal round.
#1 Connecticut Huskies 105 #9 Tulsa Golden Hurricane 57
The University of Connecticut Huskies won their 30th game of the season defeating the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa 105 – 57. UConn coach Geno Auriemma wanted to have multiple contributors, and got it from his team.
“That was a point of focus for us, we needed contributions from everybody,” Auriemma said. “When you play three games in three days you’re going to need a lot of help from a lot of people. It was a great way to start the tournament.”
All but one of the UConn players scored. Napheesa Collier led the way with 24 points. Katie Lou Samuelson had 19 and Gabby Williams scored 17.
The Huskies shot 62.3% from the field. They had 27 assists on 38 baskets and turned the ball over 5 times.
“When you combine how many assists we get and few turnovers, that’s a tough combination for a team playing against us,” Auriemma said. “If they can’t turn us over and get transition baskets, and when we get easy baskets, it’s going to be tough.”
The explosion came in the second quarter. The Huskies led 25 – 12 after one. Within the first five minutes the advantage grew to 44 – 15 an a Samuelson 3-pointer. Connecticut won the second quarter by a 33 -12 margin to take a 58 – 24 lead into the locker room.
For Tulsa, who made 38% from the floor, Erika Wakefield had a team-best 15 points making 7 of 12 field goal attempts and handed out 3 assists. She appears to be a building block for Tulsa.
“It starts with Erika,” said Matilda Mossman. “She has been a great leader for our team. She has been a great mentor and leader. IT will be good for her when those young players become sophomores and juniors.”
Fun fact of the game: the teams were a combined 24 – 24 from the free throw line. Tulsa made four of them.
“We a high-level of focus because it is a tournament game, ” said Williams about free throw shooting. “We have a high-level for every game. We were working on it.”
UConn and UCF in the first semifinal.
#2 Temple Owls 67 #10 Houston Cougars 58
The Temple Owls behind a conference tournament record 30 points by senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald over came the 10th seeded Houston Cougars 67 – 58 and move on to the American semifinal round. Fitzgerald made 10 of 21 from the floor and made 8 of 10 from the stripe. In addition she handed out a game-high 7 assists. Her focus was on the team and winning.
“I was unaware of that,” said Fitzgerald when asked if she knew she was setting a record. “I wasn’t worried about my points, I was just doing what I had to do to help my team.”
The game did not start well for either team on offense. The Owls were able to stay ahead by their work on the boards, winning the stat by a 40 – 33 margin. However, it was on the offensive glass that helped the Cherry and White getting 15 to get an 18 – 6 edge in second chance points.
“Even the shots that we missed were all good shots,” said Temple Coach Tonya Cardoza. “They just weren’t falling, so we had to make sure we got second chance opportunities.”
Fellow back court mate Alliya Butts scored 19 points as she made 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. Tanaya Atkinson, who won the conference 6th Player of the Year Award and a Connecticut resident, recorded her 9th double-double of the season scoring 16 points and taking down 12 boards, 7 on offense. All but 2 points came from Fitzgerald, Butts, and Atkinson.
Forward Ruth Sherrill grabbed 15 misses. Her career-high was 19 that came in a game at Houston in January. It was she who scored the other two points for the Cherry and White.
For Houston Angela Harris and Jacqueline Blake scored a team-best 15 points for the 12 – 19 Cougars. With an increased number of conference victories and a win in the opening round Houston is trending in the right direction.
“It’s big especially for the freshmen,” said Harris. “It was good for us to get a win in this tournament and build that for next year because I know what we are capable of. To get a win here is big. And to beat Cincinnati, a team that beat us twice, getting over the hump is big for us.”
Temple moves on to the conference semifinal round, their second conference tournament win. It is an accomplishment of meaning to a team that just might have solidified a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It means a lot, we work hard each and every day and during the summer,” Fitzgerald said. “To know that it’s paying off and we able able to advance to the semifinals in the conference tournament means it is paying off.”
#3 USF Bulls 62 # 6 SMU Mustangs 55
The game was much closer than the final score indicated. The SMU Mustangs were primed to pull an upset leading after three quarters 44 – 39, and kept that lead. But the Bulls found a way and escape with the win, and advance to the semifinals.
“We wanted this bad, this season,” USF forward Maria Jespersen said. “I saw the season pass by me, and I said we worked too hard for this. We picked it up and found a way to win.”
With just under three and a half minutes to play SMU took a 53 – 50 lead on a three-pointer by Kiara Perry, 3 of her 12 points. USF would answer back behind an 8 – 0 run capped by a three-point bank shot at the end of the shot clock by Bulls guard Laia Flores with a little over a minute remaining.
“That was a back-breaker,” said Mustangs Coach Travis Mays. “We thought we were in solid defensive position, we thought she threw up a prayer, she didn’t call ‘bank’ but when it went in I could see our energy go. At that point you’ve got to get the energy back up and make a couple of plays.”
SMU got to within a possession with the ball, but turned the ball over. USF closed it out by hitting four free throws.
McKenzie Adams scored a game-high 26 points for the Mustangs making 12 of 20 from the floor. Perry handed out 4 assists.
Flores scored 15 points and had 8 rebounds and 6 assists, both team-highs, to her stat line. Kitija Laksa contributed a team-best 17 points. Jespersen scored 14 markers.
The Bulls meet the Owls for a trip to the finals.
“It’s going to be a physical game on both ends of the floor,” said USF Coach Jose Fernandez. “We have to defend and limit them to one shot. We have to run our offense and make them guard us.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian