By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s Tiffany Hayes is not on the list of the 20 women being considered for this year’s John Wooden award, honoring the nation’s top college basketball player.
She’s certainly playing like a candidate.
Hayes followed up Wednesday’s 35-point game against Syracuse with 33 points and 10 rebounds Saturday to lead No. 3 Connecticut to its 97th consecutive home win, 77-62 over South Florida.
“I don’t think there are 20 players in the country that I would rather have than Tiffany,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “And If she played somewhere else, she’d be averaging 35 points every night.”
Her 68 points are the most ever by a Husky in back-to-back games. It was her 10th consecutive game in double figures and 18th this season.
“I definitely want to be that player that people can look up to and say, `OK, she’s going to get it done for us,”’ said Hayes, who dedicated her performance to former UConn football player Jasper Howard, a friend who was stabbed to death on campus in October 2009. It was his birthday Saturday.
Stefanie Dolson tied a season high with 22 points and added 18 rebounds for UConn (19-2, 8-1 Big East).
Caitlin Rowe had a career-high 20 points and Inga Orekhova added 16 for South Florida (12-10, 4-4).
The win was the 790th in UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s career, moving him past Georgia’s Andy Landers and into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time list.
Connecticut was up by just one point early in the second half before using a 17-5 run to take control. A three-point play by Hayes helped spark the run, turning a 38-37 lead into a 55-42 advantage with just under 12 minutes to play. Her rebound was the fourth by the Huskies during that sequence.
UConn outrebounded USF 53-28, had 20 offensive boards and outscored the Bulls 32-16 in the paint.
“Coach challenged the bigs to be what we are, which is a big,” Dolson said. “I came out today just really focusing on rebounding, really being strong out there, finishing inside, which I really didn’t do a great job of, but I knocked in some jump shots.”
Rose hit a 3-pointer to cut UConn’s lead to 64-53 with 4 1/2 minutes left, but another 3-pointer from Hayes stretched the lead back out and gave her 32 points.
She scored her 33rd point a short time later on a free throw after a technical foul was called on a USF coach Jose Fernandez. It was a physical game with 34 fouls– and UConn’s Kelly Faris and South Florida’s Tiffany Conner both fouled out.
Dolson had eight of UConn’s first 10 points as the Huskies worked to get the ball inside early.
But UConn had a hard time shaking the Bulls. Orekhova, who had 13 of her points in the first half, scored seven straight to turn a 14-10 deficit into a 17-14 South Florida lead. A 3-pointer became a four-point play when she was fouled by Kelly Faris, and she followed that up with another long 3.
UConn responded with a 12-0 run and led by nine points before South Florida responded again. Another Orekhova 3-pointer keyed an 11-2 Bulls run that stretched into the second half and cut UConn’s lead to 36-35.
“I really like this group,” said Fernandez. “I think this group competes.”
Hayes and Dolson made 10 of their 14 shots in the first half. The rest of the Huskies were 4 of 16.
Hayes moved into 13th place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,589 points, passing Swin Cash (1,583).
Caroline Doty returned to the Huskies’ lineup after missing Wednesday’s game against Syracuse with a sore left knee, which she bruised in a game against DePaul. Doty has had that knee surgically repaired three times since high school.
Connecticut has not lost at home since the finals of the 2007 Big East tournament, and has won 59 consecutive regular-season Big East games at home.
The Huskies also have won 172 straight games against unranked teams. But their next game is on the road against a ranked foe as they travel to Durham, N.C., to face No. 5 Duke on Monday night.
The loss wraps up a tough stretch for South Florida, which has faced a ranked opponent five times in its last seven games. The Bulls lost to Georgetown, Louisville and Rutgers during the stretch, but beat then-ranked DePaul and unranked Seton Hall. The Bulls head home to face West Virginia on Wednesday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)