The top four seeds in the American Athletic Conference tournament crashed their way into the semifinals Saturday with dominant wins over the lower seeds. The winning margin in the four quarterfinal games averaged 31 points.
Friday’s slate included just one team, Tulane (8-8), without a losing conference record. Those games were far more competitive than they were in the next round, with several back-and-forth contests and close games late into the fourth quarter. Despite the competitive play, however, No. 11 Memphis provided the only upset: a 76-65 defeat of No. 6 SMU.
No. 4 South Florida 65, No. 5 Tulane 50
Sophomore point guard Sydni Harvey scored a career-high 28 points as South Florida awoke from a somnolent first quarter to seize victory from Tulane in the day’s first match up. Bethy Manunga grabbed 14 boards for the Bulls.
South Florida overcame the loss to an ankle sprain of starting point guard Elis Pinzan early in the second quarter. Conference Freshman of the Year Elena Tsineke scored 14 for the Bulls, but connected on just 4-14 attempts.
Tulane suffered from early foul trouble in the first half. They did not lose much court time, but may have lost some defensive intensity. Their real problem, however, was that they had almost no movement on offense throughout the game. The Green Wave managed to assist on just four of 16 baskets.
The game swung back and forth, but after USF took the lead just before the half, they never gave it up.
Arsula Clark continued her torrid shooting, leading Tulane with 25 after her 20 in Friday’s contest. Her team, however, helped little, shooting a disappointing 30 percent for the game.
Coach Jose Fernandez was pleased with South Florida’s resilience in the absence of their injured point guard.
“[Pinzan] got injured about 12 minutes in,” he said, “and these guys . . . stepped up and made some big plays.”
“I thought they made very good decisions with the basketball and now we move on. . . . The ball started to go in the basket and we just made some really good plays down the stretch. It is so important to close each quarter, and we did that.”
South Florida will play in the semifinals for the seventh consecutive season. Unfortunately, they will play UConn, which beat them by 51 just six days ago.
No. 1 Connecticut 94, No. 8 Temple 61
Freshman Aubrey Griffin single-handedly dragged UConn out of another early game funk by scoring nine points and grabbing seven boards in her first seven minutes off the bench. She entered the game with her team leading just 12-11, and shooting 31 percent from the field.
The spark she provided with her freakish athleticism and high energy turned the game around for the Huskies. They led just 15-13 after one quarter, then exploded for a 32-15 second period that put the game away.
Griffin finished with a double-double in the half, and a career-high 15 points and 16 rebounds in the game. Fellow freshman Anna Makurat finished with 14 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. Six UConn players finished in double figures, and the team hit 14-26 threes as they cruised to a 94-61 victory.
Coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with Griffin’s energy.
“The one thing about Aubrey,” he said, “is she is going to bring a certain energy level to the game.”
“She can impact the defensively and she can impact the game defensively. She’s just active and she has the ability to go get the ball and not have the ball come to her. She goes and gets it. She made a huge difference today.”
Temple forward Mia Davis led her team with 21 points.
No. 2 Central Florida 65, No. 7 Wichita State 32
The first period of this game ended with the UCF leading 11-9 as the teams shot a combined 8-27. While things improved for the Knights in the second stanza, the Shockers only got worse, giving up a 13-3 run, and managing just four points in ten minutes.
The score was an uninspiring 28-14 at the half. This was, simply, ugly basketball. Wichita State had as many turnovers as points – 14. UCF scored 13 points off those turnovers.
The Knights improved offensively in the second half, moving steadily away from their opponents. Throughout the half, they continued to double-up the score, while the Shockers turned the ball over 27 times and scored just 32 points. They shot 27 percent for the game.
Sophomore forward Brittany Smith was the most efficient player on the court, scoring nine points on 4-6 shooting for UCF, despite sitting on the bench with foul trouble for much of the game.
The Knight’s Kay Kay Wright led all scorers with 14 points on 4-10 shooting, and the Bulls spread the scoring among nine different players.
Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson credited her team’s aggressive defense and rebounding for the win.
“When we play really good defense and play together and get stops,” she said, “it really fires our team up.”
“I thought our fourth quarter defense was big. They only scored five points in the fourth because we were getting stops and getting extra possessions. . . .They crash the boards hard, but we were getting some good box-outs, and we weren’t bailing them out. They only went to the foul line four times.”
UCF advances to play No. 3 Cincinnati Sunday.
No. 3 Cincinnati 94, No. 11 Memphis 52
The final game was never close. Day one’s magic was missing as Memphis was simply unable to contain Cincinnati’s potent offense or solve its defense.
Angel Rizor and IImar’I Thomas each scored 10 points in the first half on combined 9-10 shooting, to lead the Bearcats to a 51-19 lead.
The second half was a formality, as Cincinnati continued to pull away, finishing the contest shooting 56 percent. Memphis was an embarrassing 15-58 from the field for the game (26 percent).
Thomas finished with 17 points on 8-10 shooting. Five Bearcats scored in double figures, and the team shot 10-20 from beyond the arc.
Dulcy Mendjiadeu led Memphis with 18 points on 5-14 shooting.
The Bearcats dominated the boards, and ran their offense with cold precision, assisting on 22 of 36 baskets.
Coach Michelle Clark-Heard was excited about her team’s focus.
“Our focus and shots were falling for us,” she said. “We try to turn up our defense and try to turn that into our offense. We were in a rhythm. And I told them in the locker room, that was probably one of the best basketball games we’ve played together.”
Cincinnati will play UCF in the semi-finals. The teams split their games this season, each winning at home.
The first round of the American tournament matches the final eight teams in the standings, while the top four teams receiving byes. These lower seeded teams provided a slate of closely played games, with the outcome rarely decided before the final minute.
No. 5 Tulane 67, No. 12 Tulsa 61
Arsula Clark scored 20 points and dished seven assists to lead Tulane over Tulsa in a close contest that was decided only in the final minutes.
Tulsa led by ten after a quarter, and by three at the half. The game was tied in the fourth quarter, but a surge by Tulane opened their lead to nine, before the Hurricanes cut it to four with just 31 seconds remaining. The Blue Wave made five of six free throws to seal the win.
Four Tulsa players scored in double figures led by KK Rodriguez with 17. Tulane prevailed by scoring 12 points off 14 Tulsa turnovers, and by winning the battle of the boards 39-29.
Tulane Coach Lisa Stockton credited her defense with the victory. “We’ve been a very good defensive team all year,” she said, “and we knew that that’s what we do well.”
“So I really challenged them to slow it down. I thought we did a great job defensively of taking a lot of looks away and fighting our way back into it.”
No. 8 Temple 67, No. 9 East Carolina 57
Behind Mia Davis’ league-best 26th double-double – in this instance 24 points, 12 rebounds – Temple defeated East Carolina, 67-57 in the first day’s closest contest.
Behind a dominant second quarter, Temple led by 15 at halftime, but the Pirates chipped away in the second half, cutting the lead to just five points midway through the fourth quarter. Temple sealed the victory with a 15-10 run to close the contest.
Lashonda Monk scored 21 points for ECU, but was just 7-25 from the field. Temple dominated the boards 50-40, but offset that advantage with 21 turnovers.
Coach Tonya Cardoza was pleased with her team’s rebound.
“[W]e were very disappointed in how we played there,” she said. “Today, I felt all the things we did not do down there, we tried to do better. We still had some turnovers, but we scored against their press and did some really good things. In the third and fourth quarter they made a little run, but I thought we handled our composure and we got stops when we needed.”
No. 7 Wichita State 72, No. 10 Houston 64
The third game of the day was a contrast of two halves. Wichita State dominated the first quarter, 22-7, shooting a torrid 64 percent, while holding Houston to just two field goals. The Shockers extended their lead in the second period to close the half ahead 39-20.
Houston won the second half, steadily chipping away at the lead on the strength of their seven threes. The lead dropped to ten after three periods, and the Cougars came as close as four points in the final minute, but Seraphine Bastin made four consecutive free throws to seal the win.
Dymond Gladney scored 21 for Houston, which had four players in double figures. Trajata Colbert posted an 11 point, 11 rebound double-double to highlight a balanced attack from Wichita State.
Wichita State Coach Keitha Adams credited rebounding and free throws with the victory.
“Fourteen of 15 from the free-throw line, . . that’s an outstanding job of knocking down our free throws,” she said. “Six of 12 from the three point line, . . . a good percentage.”
“We feel like with Houston, if you win the boards you’re going to have a much greater chance, . . . because that’s a strength of theirs. We had 43 rebounds to their 33 rebounds.”
No. 11 Memphis 76, No. 6 SMU 65
In the tournament’s only upset on the first two days, Memphis defeated SMU 76-65, led by Madison Griggs’ 24 points, scored on seven threes and three free throws. Griggs set a tournament record for points by a freshman, and missed her career high by just two.
After finishing tied at 15, Memphis never trailed in the game. They stretched the lead to as much as 14 in the third period, and overcame twenty turnovers to hold on for the upset win.
Memphis ran their offense with precision (when not turning it over), dishing and impressive 19 assists for 24 baskets.
Johnasia Cash scored 19 points for the Mustangs, but SMU shot poorly (33 percent), squandering a 73-50 advantage in field goal attempts.
Memphis Coach Melissa McFerrin was clearly pleased with the upset.
“Early in the game, the players did a great job of execution and had a lot of really good shots,” she said. “We shot a high percentage early in the game, and then we played from the lead. . . .”
Our players did a really nice job in the second half of getting deeper into our sets and using the clock. It allowed us to play at a slower tempo to keep ourselves fresh, and we played from the lead pretty well.”