UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The record says the University of Connecticut women's basketball team is perfect but the Huskies know better than anyone that they're not.
After beating South Florida Monday night to cap the program's ninth unbeaten regular season and push its winning streak to 104, UConn (29-0) was given two days off before returning to work at the Werth Family Champions Center on Thursday.
Top-seeded UConn will face No. 9 Tulsa in an American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal game Saturday just after 2 p.m.
"We need to clean everything up," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "We don't want to have any weakness where someone can say, 'That's what we have to do to beat Connecticut.' We want to be as clean and as well-oiled as we can be."
The Huskies are the prohibitive favorite to win their fourth straight AAC tourney crown and receive an automatic bid to their 29th consecutive NCAA tournament. They are 79-0 in league play all time and this season had an average margin of victory of 40.5 points in 16 conference games.
But while Tulsa doesn't have enough to stay with UConn, there is the potential of a semifinal matchup Sunday with No. 5 Tulane, which on Feb. 18 cut a 17-point deficit to three and had two possessions in the final 10 seconds to tie before falling 63-60 in New Orleans. Of course, how did the Green Wave respond after playing so well in the tough loss? They lost their next two as well.
If the Huskies advance to Monday they would likely face either second-seeded Temple or No. 3 USF in the final. While UConn owns wins of 28 and 45 points against the Owls and 65 and 28 points against the Bulls, those rivals are going to the NCAA tournament for a reason and it's not like they have to be better in a best-of-seven series, just for 40 minutes.
While UConn has won 104 straight games overall, it also has a 33-game postseason winning streak dating back to a loss to Notre Dame in the 2013 Big East Tournament.
"The regular season just flew by," UConn forward Napheesa Collier said. "A lot of times, during it and as you go through it, it's a grind. But when you look back, you think, 'This went quick.' "
The Huskies' usual starting five of guards Samuelson, Kia Nurse and Saniya Chong, and forwards Collier and Gabby Williams were honored by the AAC Thursday. Samuelson, Collier, and Williams were named to the all-league first team while Nurse was a second-team pick and Chong was chosen to the third team. Williams was also selected the Defensive Player of the Year. Guard Crystal Dangerfield was an all-freshman team choice.
Then on Friday, Collier and Samuelson were named AAC Co-Players of the Year while Auriemma shared the league's Coach of the Year honor with Temple's Tonya Cardoza.
More good news came Friday when Auriemma said that Nurse would return to the starting lineup after missing four games with a stress reaction in her right ankle.
"She's definitely playing. How many minutes? I don't know," Auriemma said. "Then based on how things go we'll make a decision about Sunday, and on Sunday we'll make a decision about Monday. Hopefully, a little bit at a time her minutes will increase. Then we have a long time to rest after Monday. We're going to manage it and get through these three days."
Nurse is averaging 12.8 points and 4.2 assists per game. She leads the league in 3-point shooting at 42.2 percent.
It will be her first game since the Huskies beat South Carolina at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 13.
"The first part she was just miserable," Auriemma said. "I didn't talk to anyone so I didn't care what she had to say. I didn't want to hear it. Then after she got out of the boot and into an aircast, she would come up to me and be like, 'Hey, I think I'm going to be ready.' I'd say, 'I'm penciling you in for the second round of the NCAA Tournament.' Then it was back and forth. She would come to practice and point to her ankle and say it's getting better and better. She wants to play."
The move will put Dangerfield back to first off the bench and give the Huskies more in reserve. In the 96-68 win at USF last Monday, the starters scored 94 points before freshman Kyla Irwin netted the Huskies' final basket. With the potential of three games in three days, coach Geno Auriemma would like to get his first five some rest and have his bench earn his trust.
"Our starters had 94 of the 96? That's about the difference between our starters and our bench," Auriemma said. "I'm not that surprised. Those kids coming off the bench provide some things and sometimes they get involved offensively and sometimes they don't."
So can Irwin or Natalie Butler or Molly Bent give UConn a spark? Collier was in a somewhat similar situation a year ago coming off the bench in the run to a fourth straight national championship.
"I just tell them that they have to be ready," Collier said. "You never know what's going to happen, whether it's foul trouble or, God forbid, someone gets hurt. You have to be ready to go. When you're on the bench, be happy when something good happens. Keep yourself involved."
Dangerfield is coming off one of the best games of her freshman year Monday with 12 points along with nine assists and no turnovers in Tampa.
"She can do that every night. The sky is the limit for her," Collier said.
"These last couple of weeks have been a confidence builder and my teammates are trying to build me up as well," Dangerfield said. "Mentally, being able to take a little break (Tuesday and Wednesday) will help. But I'm ready, ready for the postseason."
Tulsa (10-20) advanced Friday with a 60-55 win over Memphis as senior guard Ashley Hughes had 12 points. The Golden Hurricane scored the first eight points and led by 14 in the second quarter. Memphis tied it with 4:59 left but Tulsa responded with nine unanswered points and the Tigers got no closer than four the rest of the way.
UConn defeated Tulsa 98-58 in Tulsa on Jan. 17 and 96-50 at Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 5.
"You have to approach it as another game," Hughes said. "You can't get high or low. We can't think about the opponent, but just go through our normal preparation. We have to go out there and compete and do our best."
UConn is 12-0 all-time at Mohegan Sun Arena with nine wins in AAC Tournament play and regular season wins over UCLA, Florida State, and Texas. The Huskies will host Oklahoma at the casino next season.
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
(at Mohegan Sun Arena)
FRIDAY'S FIRST-ROUND GAMES
Game 1: No. 9 Tulsa 60, No. 8 Memphis 55
Game 2: No. 10 Houston 74, No. 7 Cincinnati 61
Game 3: No. 6 SMU 60, No. 11 East Carolina 54
Game 4: No. 5 Tulane vs. No. 4 Central Florida, noon
Game 5: No. 9 Tulsa vs. No. 1 UConn, 2 p.m.
Game 6: No. 10 Houston vs. No. 2 Temple, 6 p.m.
Game 7: No. 6 SMU vs. No. 3. South Florida, 8 p.m.
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 7:30 p.m.
MONDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 7 p.m.
Note: Game 10 winner receives AAC's automatic bid to NCAA tournament