TAMPA, Fla. -- Tina Charles' teammates sensed the Connecticut freshman was poised to have a breakout performance against South Florida.
"She was really focused during warmups, and you can look in her eyes and tell when Tina is going to dominate on both ends of the court," Huskies forward Charde Houston said after Charles scored a UConn freshman-record 34 points to pace an 81-67 victory Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-4 center from the same New York high school that produced Sue Bird, Chamique Holdsclaw and Lamar Odom also grabbed 17 rebounds -- two shy of her personal best -- to break the Huskies' freshman season mark for total rebounds.
"We threw up shots and there were times when they didn't go in, and she cleaned up everything on the glass," said Houston, who also had a big night with 18 points and 10 rebounds to help No. 3 UConn (25-2, 14-0) clinch its first outright Big East regular-season title in three years.
Charles, averaging just under 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, made 14-of-19 shots from the field and went 6-for-7 at the foul line. She had previously scored 20 points twice.
"As coaches, we want a game like this every night. And we don't care that she's a freshman, and we don't care that she doesn't know about anything," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
"We want a game like this every single night. And to have it on the road against a good team, where she had to really work at it, I thought it was pretty good," he said.
USF (18-9, 8-6) lost for the fourth time in five games, letting UConn gradually pull away after keeping it close for a half before a crowd of 5,241 -- a record for a South Florida women's home game.
Nalini Miller scored 18 points and Shantia Grace added 17 for the Bulls. Leading scorer Jessica Dickson was limited to two points in the second half and finished with 11 on 5-for-16 shooting.
"For our team and our program to take that next step, we've got to start winning some of these games," said USF coach Jose Fernandez, whose team may need to win its final two Big East games and then win again in the conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
UConn trailed 22-20 before taking the lead for good with a quick 8-0 surge. It was 38-32 at the half, and the Huskies were never seriously threatened after Renee Montgomery and Kalana Green, who had 10 points and eight rebounds, scored to build the advantage to double digits.
UConn has won 98 of its last 105 regular-season games against Big East opponents and is 14-0 in conference play for the first time since 2002-03 and sixth time overall. The Huskies can run the table in the league by beating Villanova at home and Rutgers on the road in the next six days.
"We want to go undefeated," Montgomery said. "We've been saying that since the beginning, and I think now we've really put ourselves in good position to do it. ... That's our main goal right now."