NCAA women's tournament set to start with wide open fieldConnecticut head coach Geno Auriemma gestures to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals against East Carolina, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) -- UConn was missing one All-American on Saturday, but another made certain the Huskies had little problem keeping intact their six-year unbeaten streak in the American Athletic Conference.
Napheesa Collier scored a season-high 37 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as the second-ranked Huskies, playing without star Katie Lou Samuelson, pulled away from East Carolina 92-65 in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament.
The Huskies have not lost to a conference opponent since the league was formed in 2013 (118-0).
UConn (29-2) beat the Pirates last month in Hartford by 63 points, a game in which Samuelson scored 31. The senior star hurt her back in a game last week and the Huskies say she won't return before the NCAA Tournament.
''We took out our second-best rebounder; we took out our best shooter; we took out a really good passer; we took out another long body in our zone,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ''So all of the sudden, things change.''
Minus Samuelson, UConn led just 24-22 after a quarter and 46-39 at halftime.
''We need to do a much better job of kind of coming out and hitting first,'' said Collier, who had 29 points in the first 20 minutes to keep the Huskies ahead. ''It's taking a while for us to get rolling.''
The conference's player of the year hit 15 of 20 shots in the game and her teammates got more involved in the second half.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who started in Samuelson's place, finished with 17 rebounds and five blocked shots. Crystal Dangerfield and Christyn Williams each scored 16 points and Megan Walker added 14 for UConn, which outscored ECU 46-26 after the break.
''We were kind of relying on (Collier) way too much,'' said Dangerfield. ''She was just killing herself out there and we knew it and we just kind of rode on her back.''
Lashonda Monk scored 20 points and Alex Frazier added 13 in her final game for East Carolina, which lost for the first time in four games and finished the season 16-15.
East Carolina: The Pirates, who beat SMU 50-48 in overtime in the first round, are now 1-3 in AAC quarterfinal games. It was ECU's third tournament lost to UConn, which improved to 11-0 all-time against the Pirates.
UConn: The Huskies, who have never lost an American Athletic Conference game, are now 16-0 in the six AAC tournaments. UConn has won 30 consecutive conference tournament games, dating to the old Big East.
The Huskies came into the game shooting 36 percent from 3-point range, led by Samuelson's 75 baskets from behind the arc. But, they made just 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) 3s on Saturday. They outscored ECU 52-20 in the paint and outrebounded the Pirates 51-26, including 15-8 on the offensive end.
The double-double was the 18th of the season for Collier and the 42nd of her UConn career.
ECU interim coach Nicole Mealing had never held a head coaching job when she took over the program in late December after Chad Killinger stepped down for health reasons. Killinger had taken the job in October after the resignation of Heather Macy amid an investigation into possible NCAA violations related to practices.
Mealing said she believes the program is headed in the right direction, but would not speculate on her future at ECU.
''I haven't really thought about it at all,'' she said. ''Shimmy Gray-Miller at Clemson told me that this wasn't about me, it's about the team. So, I needed to be present for them. That's what I've been focusing on this whole time is the team. I'm going to worry about me later.''
East Carolina's season is over.
UConn: The Huskies will be trying to reach 30 wins for a 14th consecutive season when they face South Florida in the semifinals on Sunday. The fifth-seeded Bulls beat Tulane 61-52 in the tournament's first round on Friday and topped Houston 72-55 earlier on Saturday. UConn beat the Bulls 57-47 in Monday night's regular-season finale for both teams after trailing by double digits early in that game.
''We expect to play for a championship,'' said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. ''It's just a different route to Monday night this time.''
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