STORRS, Conn. -- For the first time in the history of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, the Canadian national anthem was played at Gampel Pavilion by the UConn pep band prior to a regular season game.
Senior Kia Nurse, the Hamilton, Ontario, native in whose honor it was played Monday night, sang her rendition of O Canada loud and proud as her teammates standing next to her broke into smiles.
"I sound like an angel, are you surprised?" Nurse said with a smile.
The best news for the top-ranked Huskies is that there were no surprises on Senior Night 2018.
Nurse and classmate Gabby Williams were honored and then UConn went out and took care of business, completing an unbeaten regular season with an easy 82-53 American Athletic Conference win over No. 20 South Florida before 9,115 at Gampel Pavilion.
"It was incredible," Nurse said. "It was a great atmosphere to be a part of. I'm so fortunate to be part of a program that does things like this to celebrate four years and the journey and road that Gabby and I have been on. It's even better when you get to do it with your best friend, somebody who's been by your side through it all and who you're extremely proud of."
Nurse and Williams were escorted by their families to center court where they were met by coach Geno Auriemma. Each were given a framed jersey that they raised to the cheering and standing crowd.
The short ceremony wrapped up with Williams' No. 15 being unveiled on the wall at Gampel Pavilion in the Huskies of Honor program. Criteria for induction is selection to the WBCA All-America team, and the Sparks, Nevada, native picked up that honor in 2017.
"I just looked at my mom and my family," Williams said. "They never get to see that kind of stuff. They never get to be on the court. It was a moment that I was happy to share with them."
The win gives UConn (29-0, 16-0 AAC) its third straight unbeaten regular season and 10th overall, all since 1995. The Huskies will begin their bid for a fifth consecutive AAC tournament title on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. with a quarterfinal contest at Mohegan Sun Arena against the winner of Saturday's first-round game between No. 8 Memphis and ninth-seeded Tulane.
Azura Stevens came off the bench to pace UConn with 21 points. Williams just missed a double-double, finishing with 18 points and nine assists. Katie Lou Samuelson chipped in 14 points, while Nurse had 10 points and another solid effort on the defensive end. USF's Kitija Laksa entered the game as the top scorer in the AAC but left at No. 2 behind Temple's Tanaya Atkinson.
With 3:34 left, Williams and Nurse left the game for a final time to another standing ovation.
"From the time that she walked on campus, Kia has been an amazing competitor and it started in the first couple workouts," Auriemma said. "And she didn't start the first couple games of our season her freshman year and we lost one of them and she has only lost one since. She's an unbelievable competitor, that is the best way I can describe it.
"Watching Gabby play, the people that came out to watch her play in person, it's pretty special when she's doing some of the things she does. There just haven't been a lot of players, and I've seen a lot of players, that can get a crowd excited like she does. And it's not just at one end of the floor. It's a little bit of everything. She's come a long way in four years."
The Huskies ran their winning streak in AAC play to 98 by improving to 25-0 all-time against USF.
But as sometimes happens on Senior Night here, the Huskies have slow starts. Two years ago, the Huskies fell into an 11-point hole against Tulane on the day Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were honored before bouncing back for a 40-point win. It was the largest deficit of their record 111-game winning streak.
Midway through the first quarter, UConn's lead Monday night was only 5-4 and the slow pace was favoring USF.
"I had no idea what to expect as far as what kind of emotions I'd be feeling," Williams said. "And Senior Night is always hard to play because of those emotions. I kept that in the back of mind, 'We still have a game.' So I tried to stay focused. If I hadn't seen what happened in the past here I would have been less prepared.
"But at the end of the day it means more to have a great game on Senior Night. The accolades and presentation is special and it's great and we love it. It means more to have fun on the court and play well."
But following a timeout, the Huskies turned up the pressure and it got to USF and in particular its senior point guard, Laia Flores, who leads the AAC in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
At 10-8, UConn went on a 19-2 run in a 3:02 span to break it open. If USF wasn't turning it over, Flores started to push the pace and it led to rushed shots which all played into the Huskies' hands.
Williams and Stevens had two baskets each with Samuelson adding a 3 to a burst of 13 unanswered points. After Flores scored for USF, five points from Samuelson and a free throw by Williams made it 29-10.
"As usual, it was our defense that broke it open for us," Nurse said. "We got some steals, some tips, and some defensive rebounds that we were able to push in transition. That's when we become a deadly matchup."
Twelve straight points, capped off by a Crystal Dangerfield trey from the corner, gave UConn its biggest lead of the first half at 27. It was 50-26 at the break.
USF (24-6, 13-3) got no closer than 23 the rest of the way and UConn's biggest lead was 35. The Bulls will be the No. 2 seed in the AAC tournament and will play its quarterfinal game Sunday at 2:30 p.m. against either No. 7 East Carolina or 10th-seeded SMU.
"You've got to have a short term memory," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "Our kids know that. We have a week to get ready. Our goal is what it has been. We've got three runner-up trophies in our conference room. Our goal is to win our first two games in the conference tournament and again play them on Tuesday night and compete for a conference championship."
Laksa had 14 points for the Bulls, but is now 5-for-30 from the floor against UConn this season. Maria Jespersen and Tamara Henshaw added 12 points each.
Williams and Nurse are now 141-2 since their arrival at UConn. But while Monday night was their last regular season game at Gampel Pavilion, they could have two more outings here during the NCAA tournament.
But first things first, and that's put an unbeaten regular season behind them and look forward to they hope is three days at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"We have a day off and we'll take that," Nurse said. "But as soon as we get back to practice, we'll be focused on what's ahead."