American Athletic Conference quarterfinals afternoon session: UConn & Tulane advance

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Quarterfinal play in the American Athletic Conference tournament opened with two games. Fifth-seeded Tulane upset fourth-seeded Memphis, 70-64 in the first game, and top-seeded UConn throttled East Carolina, 92-51.

Tulane 70, Memphis 64

Fifth-seeded Tulane upset fourth-seeded Memphis behind 23 points from sophomore guard Kolby Morgan. This is the second straight year Tulane upset a higher seed to move on to the semifinal round; last year it was third-seeded Tulsa.

It was an even game, marked by runs by each team; Tulane led by eight after the first quarter, Memphis by eight in the third, before the Green Wave came back in the fourth quarter to close out the Tigers.

Morgan added seven rebounds and four assists for Tulane, senior Tierra Jones scored ten, and junior point guard Leslie Vorpahl, the American’s Most Improved Player this season, contributed eight assists.

Memphis senior Ariel Hearn led the Tigers with 17 points, and Brianna Wright scored ten and pulled down eleven rebounds.

After an Ahearn layup tied the game at 62, the Green Wave buried eight straight foul shots (Tulane made 12-of-13 foul shots for the game), and Memphis was not able to claw back in the closing minutes as Tulane clamped down on defense.

“Both sides of the game shifted so much. The momentum shifted a lot, even within a quarter. We had a couple of goals coming in; one was rebounding and the other was taking care of the ball,” said Tulane coach Lisa Stockton. “The Memphis offense is so good and really challenged our defense. Holding them to 35 percent was a great credit to our kids and what they are capable to do on defense.”

Tulane moves on to the semifinals tomorrow at Mohegan Sun Arena, against UConn, the winners of the second quarterfinal, while Memphis will await a WNIT bid.

“We are going to be disappointed but we are also going to be excited,” said Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin. “A lot of players out there are peeling their jerseys off for the last time and we are fortunate we are likely not.”

Connecticut 92, East Carolina 51

Top-seeded UConn jumped out to an early lead over East Carolina, and never looked back, as the Huskies ran the Pirates off the court, 92-51 in a quarterfinal game in the American Conference tournament.

Five Huskies scored in double figures, led by Morgan Tuck and Katie Lou Samuelson with 16 points each. Breanna Stewart scored 15, Gabby Williams 14 (all in the second half), and Kia Nurse 13 for the Huskies, who remain perfect on the season.

Earlier in the week head coach Geno Auriemma had mentioned that his teams have the tendency to turn their game up a notch come tournament time. Today it was Tuck who was dominant on the court, adding five rebounds and five assists to her 16 points, even hitting two of four three point attempts.

“She played really, really well,” Auriemma said of Tuck. “The biggest thing about Morgan for the most part is she’s a really efficient player; she doesn’t need a lot of shots to get a lot of things accomplished. She’s been struggling for a while, she just couldn’t get anything to go her way. She’s a very prideful person so it started to really bother her. She started to come out of it a little bit in the South Florida game. Today she looked like her old self.”

Auriemma continued, praising Tuck and Stewart, and mentioning their importance to the team’s goal of winning the national championship.

“When you have Tuck and Stewie both playing at a pretty high level, and they play off each other so well, at this time of year there’s not a lot of wasted motion. We’re not going to win the remaining games we want to win unless Morgan plays great like she did today.”

While Tuck, Stewart and Jefferson are the veterans, Auriemma also had praise for freshman Samuelson’s performance. Especially a section early in the game where Samuelson was knocked down hard, got up assisted on a Tuck layup, hit a three-pointer and then drove for a layup on three consecutive possessions.

“Lou’s a pretty tough kid, pretty competitive and it usually comes out when she’s pushed,” said Auriemma. “She responds, and I thought right after that the shot she made was huge, because a lot of times if you let things linger they can ruin your half.”

Jada Payne led East Carolina with 16 points and I’Tiana Taylor with 14. However, as a team, East Carolina shot 36 percent for the game and turned the ball over 23 times.

UConn advances to play Tulane tomorrow at 4:30 pm ET, in a game that will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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