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Adjustments send UConn into AAC championship game - By Rich Zalusky

POSTED March 05, 2017
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UNCASVILLE -- If you ask University of Connecticut freshman guard Crystal Dangerfield she relishes the way that UCF (Central Florida) decided to play on Sunday afternoon in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"It made things fun," Dangerfield said. "It was good for us to see that. They were making things a challenge and we had to find a response."

The formula which UCF attempted to employ involved physicality along with making the top-seeded Huskies play defense for the full 30 seconds on the shot clock. Often in the opening 20 minutes - particularly in the second quarter - UConn found itself rushing when they had possession often settling for the first open look they saw instead of that precision ball-movement that everyone has so become accustomed.

Because of it, UConn headed to halftime with a 12-point lead - 37-25. Once adjustments were made ... the formula became exposed and for the Huskies it was business as usual in the second half. Napheesa Collier (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Gabby Williams (16 points, 9 rebounds 4 assists, 2 steals) provided part of the solution while Dangerfield (14 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) helped rev up the offense as UConn (31-0) advanced to its fourth consecutive AAC tournament championship game with a 78-56 victory over UCF (20-11).

"We had to slow down our offense," UConn sophomore forward Katie Lou Samuelson said. "We were taking the first shot we got every single time down the court the first half. We wanted to make sure everything was different. There was a lot of ball movement and we didn't want to rush things. It was a matter of taking advantage of our talent."

It was Collier that used her physicality early in the third quarter - scoring six points during an 8-2 spurt - forcing the Knights to call time-out with 7:30 remaining as the lead grew to 18 - 45-27. Out of that time-out, Williams jumped into the passing lane to anticipate a pass from just over midcourt and leading to a fast-break lay-up that made it a 20-point game.

"We had to create easy scoring opportunities for ourselves," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "The first half - we didn't do a good job of that. They [UCF] attacked us on both ends of the floor. I thought our response initially was just hurry up and try to blow them out so let's hurry up and shoot the ball and not play the way we normally do.

"We ended up coming down making one or two passes and then shoot the ball and never got the ball movement we usually get. Once we took care of that it changed up things a little bit."

Said Williams: "We kind of took a step back in the first half with how physical they were. So I think Napheesa and I just wanted to show that we can be as aggressive."

Dangerfield - who Auriemma said afterwards played her best game of the year on the defensive end - dove on the floor several times to come up with loose balls - and combined with Chong on changing speeds with hesitation and mis-direction to get things flowing on offense.

"Both Crystal and Saniya pushed the pace and helped get everyone involved," Auriemma said. Dangerfield said that one of the things she has made an emphasis on in
practice defensively are getting her hands active and involved more along with keeping players in front of her the best that she can. Samuelson has seen steady improvement in Dangerfield.

"Crystal has been coming into her own as a player," Samuelson said. "She's a spark for our offense and picks things right back up for us. And every single day you can see just how more comfortable that she is on the floor."

The victory extended UConn's NCAA record winning-streak to 106 consecutive games and also made it a perfect 80-for-80 - regular season and tournament - since joining the AAC in the 2013-14 season. UConn will face third-seeded South Florida for the third consecutive year in tonight's AAC championship game (ESPN2) at 7 p.m. The Bulls (23-7) advanced with a 63-58 semifinal victory over second-seeded Temple (23-7). South Florida had lost both regular season meetings - including a 66-60 loss on Feb. 27 that helped wrap up the No. 2 seed in the tournament for Temple.

And UConn heads into the match-up following an important reminder in the semifinals.

What was that, Geno?

"It was a good reminder that you're not guaranteed that every shot is going to go in," Auriemma said. "When that happens you have to figure out a different way to score and win the game. You're just not going to go out there and say, 'Hey, we're going to get 100 today.'

"You have to be able to win 100-to-something or 70-to-something. That's what good teams do. Sometimes we forget that because we score so easily."

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