UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- If there's one thing about the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, the Huskies are consistent.
American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Katie Lou Samuelson paced five players in double figures with 21 points as No. 1 UConn coasted past ninth-seeded Tulane 82-56 on Sunday in an AAC tournament quarterfinal game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The victory gives the Huskies (30-0) their NCAA record 13th consecutive 30-win season and 23rd in the last 25 years. Their only misses since 1994 were in 1999 (29-5) and 2005 (25-8). The second-longest streak is seven. Notre Dame, which lost to Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final Sunday, needs one win in the NCAA tournament for its eighth straight 30-win season.
"Once you get here, you start to see why this place is different than anywhere else," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "It's something that's hard to put words to if you're not in the program and if you're not in it you can't actually understand it. The coaches have done a great job over the years of putting their players and putting each of their teams into situations where they can be successful, not only as students and as athletes, but as people."
UConn will look to advance to the tournament final Monday when it takes on No. 4 Cincinnati at 7 p.m. Second-seeded South Florida and No. 3 Central Florida will meet in the first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. The Huskies defeated the Bearcats 106-65 on Feb. 4 at XL Center.
Cincinnati is coached by former UConn player and assistant Jamelle Elliott.
"What are we going to do? Change anything?" UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We're going to do exactly what we've been doing all year and it has to be good enough. I told the kids before our game, 'What do you want to me to write on the board? Have you noticed that with every game that goes by there's less and less written on the board? Why? Because I'm tired of saying it and your tired of hearing it.' At this time of the year, what's there to say. You know what they're going to do and they know what we're going to do. Let's see who's better at it.
"I'm biased, so if you'd ask me before the game who I would want to win I would say Cincinnati. But then you say be careful. That's why I say don't ever root for somebody and certainly don't ever root against somebody, especially when it comes to tournament time."
Cincinnati advanced with a 66-65 win over No. 12 Tulsa. Ana Owens's left-handed layup with 4.6 seconds left put the Bearcats (19-11) in front. Erika Wakefield had a chance to win it for Tulsa but her layup at the buzzer fell off the rim.
Auriemma's teams have never lost to an opponent with one of his former assistant coaches or players on their staff.
Since the start of the 1993-94 season, UConn has compiled a 859-57 record and has gone 916 games without back-to-back losses. The Huskies have had 13 seasons of 35 or more wins including their perfect 40-0 mark of four years ago.
"It's hard for us to think about records like that because we're always looking forward to what's next or the next game," UConn forward Gabby Williams said. "But it does say so much about this program. Start with thinking about how little Coach has lost in that time. It could be easy to have a down season where you don't get 30 wins. It would be super-easy for that happens. But Coach pushes the players he has and it becomes more difficult to not have a season like that."
Sunday's victory was also the Huskies' 30th consecutive league tournament quarterfinal win. They had been 0-4 before advancing to the semifinals for the first time in 1989.
But UConn didn't leave without some concerns, though.
Williams aggravated a hip injury with 2:46 to go in the first half and did not return. Point guard Crystal Dangerfield, who has been dealing with shin splints in her left leg for two months, had a Tulane player fall on her right ankle with 4:18 left in the third quarter and did not come back.
"I'm not talking about my hip. Sorry," Williams said.
"It will be fine," Dangerfield said of her ankle.
Auriemma said both could have come back if they were needed. Fortunately for the Huskies, the outcome was decided by the time they went out.
UConn, as has been so often the case this season, used its defense to spark an 18-0 run to end the first quarter that broke it open. Leading by one, Dangerfield hit a 3 and Nurse followed with consecutive steals and layups. A Nurse trey pushed the Huskies lead into double figures. A Dangerfield steal and layup followed and Samuelson hit two free throws. Two baskets by Azura Stevens made it 28-9 after one quarter.
In the final 5:30 of the period, Tulane (14-17) went 0-for-7 from the floor with seven turnovers.
"We wanted to emphasize getting into the passing lanes more and keeping the ball out of the middle so we could get more traps," Williams said. "At the beginning we were letting them run their offense a little too easily. So once we got the into passing lanes and got more ball pressure, things started coming to us offensively."
Dangerfield opened the second quarter with a 3, and Samuelson and Napheesa Collier had seven points each as UConn stretched its advantage to 52-22 at the break.
The Huskies' biggest lead was 36 and Tulane's surge against UConn's reserves accounted for the final margin.
Collier finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Stevens, the AAC Sixth Man Award winner, had 15 points while Dangerfield scored 14 points (4-for-4 from 3-point land) and had four steals.
"Crystal's been able to practice the last couple of days and that's really helped," Auriemma said. "We still don't have her for the entire practice but the fact she's out there and back in the swing of things, you can see that was really comfortable. And she was uncomfortable in some games earlier."
Nurse finished with 11 points as she and Samuelson passed the 1,600-point plateau.
Kolby Morgan closed out her career at Tulane with 21 points. She finishes with 2,240 points, second on the Green Wave's all-time scoring list to 2000 graduate Grace Daley (2,259).
"It has been an amazing four years," Morgan said. "I wouldn't have wanted it at any other program. Tulane has done so much for me on and off the floor."
UConn is seeking its fifth straight AAC tournament title. The Huskies are 99-0 against AAC competition since the league formed.
(at Mohegan Sun Arena) (seeding in parentheses)
Saturday's first-round games
Game 1: Temple (11) 72, Wichita State (6) 59
Game 2: East Carolina (7) 85, SMU (10) 74
Game 3: Tulane (9) 76, Memphis (8) 64
Game 4: Tulsa (12) 98, Houston (5) 72
Game 5: Central Florida (3) 77, Temple (11) 70
Game 6: South Florida (2) 80, East Carolina (7) 44
Game 7: UConn (1) 82, Tulane (9) 56
Game 8: Cincinnati (4) 66, Tulsa (12) 65
Game 9: Central Florida (3) vs. South Florida (2), 4:30 p.m.
Game 10: Cincinnati (4) vs. UConn (1), 7 p.m.
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 5 p.m.
Note: Game 11 winner receives AAC's automatic bid to NCAA tournament