UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Playing three games in three days can take its toll.
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team is pleased, though, that it will deal with that after advancing to the American Athletic Conference championship game Sunday. Napheesa Collier had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Gabby Williams added 16 points and nine rebounds as the top-seeded Huskies downed No. 4 Central Florida, 78-56, in semifinal action at Mohegan Sun Arena.
But playing a game, no matter how many in a row is better than going to practice, right?
"Yeah, probably," UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson said. "Our coaches make it a point to make practices as hard as they can because it will be easier for us once we get to the games. That's how it's supposed to be. You're not supposed to coast through practice. That's why they've been so successful. They've done that and held the players to that standard since they got here."
UConn (31-0) will go for its fourth straight AAC tournament crown and its 22nd league tournament title overall when it takes on third-seeded South Florida on Monday at 7 p.m. USF topped No. 2 Temple, 63-58, Sunday to reach its third conseuctive AAC final.
Crystal Dangerfield came off the bench for 14 points while Samuelson netted all 12 of her points in the first half and added five assists for the Huskies, who pushed their overall winning streak to 106 and their postseason run to 34. UConn is 27-2 in league tournament semifinals since 1989 with the losses coming in Big East play in 1993 to Providence and in 2004 to Boston College.
UCF (20-11) received 22 points from Zykira Lewis, though it took her 26 shots to get them. Aliyah Gregory added 13 points and eight rebounds. The Knights' aggressive play allowed them to stay within striking distance in the first half before Collier and Williams took charge in the third quarter.
"Obviously that was a very physical, very hard-fought game on our end," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We were able to make some adjustments at halftime, but nothing was easy, everything was a struggle.
"Their style of play is not an easy one to deal with, especially when you don't shoot the ball great. I thought the way we responded in the third quarter was a lot of fun for me to see. Our players generally respond to challenges and they did a great job with that."
The Huskies, who led 37-25 at halftime, opened the third quarter strong as Collier had six points in a 10-2 run that made it 47-27. It was 61-37 at the end of the period.
"They were aggressive with us and we thought that they would be the most aggressive team that we've played all year," Samuelson said. "We had to be ready to go. We struggled a little bit at the beginning but we got it together and got it going."
UConn's biggest lead came at 30 and UCF got no closer than the final margin, though first-year UCF coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson went to full-court pressure in the closing minutes after Auriemma had cleared his bench.
"I think in the third quarter we just came with the mindset that if the refs are going to let us play then we need to play," Collier said. "We can't just back down and depend on the refs to call a foul. You have to fight back.
"It is better to get tested like this now when we won then have it happen in a championship game where we have no room for error."
The Huskies, who were whistled for seven fouls compared to 16 for the Knights, were 15-for-19 at the foul line while UCF's only free throw of the game came with 1:20 remaining.
"It was a physical game and we tried not to get caught up in that and their style of play," Williams said. "We just tried to play the way that we do. We were pretty disciplined in not reaching in or hacking and helping off the right guys."
UCF is expected to get a WNIT bid.
UConn swept the regular season from USF. The Huskies handed the Bulls the worst loss in program history, 102-37, at the XL Center on Jan. 10, then rode Collier's 39 points to a convincing 96-68 victory last Monday at the Sun Dome.
USF has never beaten the Huskies (0-22) and has never beaten a top-10 team.
"Championship games always mean something," Williams said. "We're adding something to our own season and our own identity going into the NCAA tournament. It's important to us."
The Bulls (24-7) received 18 points from Kitija Laksa, 15 from AAC Freshman of the Year Tamara Henshaw, and 14 points from Maria Jespersen.
USF led as many as 11 with 4:24 left but needed two free throws from Laksa in the final seconds to put away the Owls (24-7).
"We wanted this game," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "This is the third year in a row we're going to be playing on Monday night. You always want to play for a championship and we have that opportunity.
"We played a lot better against Connecticut last week than we did the first time. That first game was atrocious. We have to do a better job defensively against them and hold them to one shot. And we have to be able to score. When they score, we have to be able to answer."
Monday night's winner will receive the AAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, though the loser is almost certain to receive an at-large berth.
"It's Connecticut," Laksa said. "You can prepare, but they will surprise you. We have to hang in there and make it a tough battle. The third time -- What is it they say? -- the third time is the charm."
American Athletic Conference tournament
(at Mohegan Sun Arena)
No. 1 UConn 78, No. 4 Central Florida 56
No. 3 South Florida 63, No. 2 Temple 58
Monday's championship game
South Florida vs. UConn, 7 p.m.