TAMPA, Fla. – Late in the first half, South Florida had a chance to tie the game with No. 3 Connecticut. By intermission, the game was a blowout.
Lesson for the Bulls: When facing elite teams, there simply is no margin for error.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 32 points, Stefanie Dolson added 25 and the Huskies overwhelmed South Florida 85-51 on Saturday, moving to 12-0 all-time in the series against the Bulls and spoiling their home regular-season finale.
"That's what they do," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "You've got to avoid the 8-2 run, the 10-2 run. ... And we couldn't do that. But hand it to them."
An 13-0 early run set the tone for Connecticut (27-2, 14-1 Big East), and then a 27-11 burst over the final 6 minutes of the half turned what had potential for some drama into a rout. Now the Huskies take a full head of steam into Monday's showdown at South Bend, Ind., where No. 2 Notre Dame awaits for another installment of one of the top rivalries in the women's game.
Meanwhile, USF (19-9, 8-7) heads to Monday's regular-season finale at Georgetown on a two-game slide, one coming at the absolute wrong time of year.
"For us, Monday is a must-win for us to get to the NCAA tournament," Fernandez said.
Inga Orekhova scored 13 points for the Bulls, who shot just 25 percent for the game. Alisia Jenkins and Andrea Smith each scored 10 for USF, which was outrebounded 49-38 and shot just 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
Mosqueda-Lewis had 24 points by halftime, Dolson added 18 by the break, and the Huskies' 1-2 punch was way too much for USF. The duo needed 19:44 to score 42 points, while the Bulls didn't cross the 42-point barrier until Orekhova connected on a 3-pointer with 12:06 left in the game.
And by then, UConn had a 24-point lead, long having debunked any notion that they were looking past USF in anticipation of the game against the Irish.
"We needed to take care of Saturday before we think about Monday," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
His Huskies made that mantra look easy. Turns out, it really wasn't the case.
UConn didn't even arrive in Tampa until about midnight Friday, just 12 hours before tipoff. Clearly, the Huskies were unaffected, given how they quickly got rolling.
UConn ran off 13 straight points to take early control, though the Bulls hardly conceded everything that quickly. USF answered with a 9-0 run that started with a lucky break, when Orekhova got the rebound of her own miss — a forced shot that went off the side of the backboard — and scored to snap what was about a 6-minute field-goal drought for the Bulls.
When Orekhova found Akila McDonald inside with a nifty pass a few minutes later, UConn's lead was down to 15-13. And the Bulls' Courtney Williams had an open look at a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 6:33 left in the first half, but her shot bounced off the rim.
Another inch or two, maybe some drama.
Instead, UConn quickly turned things into a runaway, even in a game where guard Bria Hartley was 0 for 11 from the floor.
"It was a quick turnaround, but we tried to not really think about that as much," UConn guard Kelly Faris said. "We didn't come out as strong as we wanted to, but it's a good thing we were able to pick it up and turn it around."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson were an inside-outside force for the Huskies. Mosqueda-Lewis was 6 for 12 from 3-point range, and Dolson just overpowered the bigs the Bulls tried to send her way.
"These two have been some of the most consistent players we've had all year," Faris said.
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 to state their case for inclusion as a fifth Big East team in the national rankings.
A loss at Rutgers on Tuesday stopped a three-game winning streak, and this loss likely eliminates any chance of the Bulls — who took Notre Dame to overtime at home this season — cracking the Top 25 for the first time.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance today," Fernandez said.