UConn beats Stanford to reach championship game

Update: South Carolina schloen UConn to win his second national championship.

MINNEAPOLIS – As many appear the same Friday night as 27 years ago: Connecticut reached the title game of the NCAA Women’s Tournament with a victory over Stanford at the Target Center.

This victory in 1995 gave the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma a chance to play their first championship. On Sunday night against South Carolina, UConn could win a 12th national title to capture a windy, frustrating, injured regular season that led to the Huskies regaining what has become their usual position as a postseason powerhouse.

Auriemma said that this particular victory, in which Paige Bueckers and her talented teammates lasted just long enough to get past reigning champions Stanford, 63-58, was “100 percent” different from the Cardinal’s long defeat.

“So many years we went into the best team and everyone knew it,” Auriemma said. “This year, I thought nothing of it.”

He believed the team needed help to keep Stanford from playing his best. “By an unknown miracle, we are playing Sunday night,” he said.

The loss completed a 24-game winning streak for the Cardinals, which was the longest-running streak in Division I, and put the Huskies back in the championship game for the first time since 2016.

Bueckers, the sensational Sophomore guard who grew up close to Minneapolis but missed 19 games this season with a knee injury, led the Huskies by 14 points, even though they spent some time on the bench in the fourth quarter after took a hit on the legs. After the game, she said she was “OK”.

“I knew it was going to be a very competitive, kind of slow game,” Bueckers added. “Both teams are trying to win a national championship. It’s a Final Four game and everyone will put it on the line and that’s just basketball.

A UConn defense that strained Stanford from the start kept the Cardinals on one of their lowest-scoring games of the season, despite a late run that repeatedly turned the marathon into an affair with a possession.

No team shot particularly well. The Cardinal made more 3-point shots than the Huskies did and made fewer of them. Stanford’s goal was led by Haley Jones, who had 20 points and finished with a double-double through his 11 rebounds.

“There were some self-reliant injuries in what we did outside, and it was disappointing,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

The first half was the low slog that most fans of the game expected early in the evening between South Carolina, the tournament Top Overall, and Louisville. The physical tone between UConn and Stanford meant players spent more time pleading with officials to call and try to overcome each other than take shots – Stanford’s Lexie Hull even came out of the game shortly after with a bloody nose after he made a hard foul.

No team could even hit double digits until the last minute of the first quarter, when Bueckers found an open look to pull the Huskies to 10 points. She was by far Connecticut’s best shooter early, to the delight of her hometown.

Stanford began to gather a bit more offensive power in the second quarter. The splashiest insult in that period, however, came from the UConn bench. Evina Westbrook, the Redshirt senior guard who was transferred from Tennessee when the players had to sit for another year, came into the game and hit three much-used shots behind the arc.

At the break, the Huskies led by 1. The score promised an unusual result for a team: UConn arrived in Minneapolis with a 25-1 record this season in games leading it after two quarters. Stanford were 6-1 at halftime.

One of the most intense battles of the game came between the best postal players on the teams: Stanford’s Cameron Brink and Connecticut’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Brink led in the first half with just one foul and 8 points on Nelson-Ododa’s two fouls and zero points.

But Brink picked up her third and fourth personal errors early in the final quarter of the game, which sent her to the bench and allowed Nelson-Ododa to paddle UConn’s lead on the free-kick line.

“She was extremely physical when we went to our post office,” said VanDerveer of Nelson-Ododa. “We really tried every timeout, every dead ball, to say ‘Get the ball in.’ But it’s easier said than done.”

Stanford’s offense was sputtered by much of the second half, at least by his standards. The cardinal struggled to move the ball around the court, and her normally shiny 3-point shot disappeared.

“We did not say much outside,” Jones said. “It’s hard to swallow those pills.”

But UConn was hardly explosive proving itself, and the Huskies only held a lead of one possession in the final quarter. The “Let’s go Huskies!” Chants started to build as the team scored points, and when the Bueckers were able to get a claw and enter a layout that matched UConn’s biggest lead with less than six minutes to play, it felt as if Stanford his window closed in a long drought. .

But at the last minute, the Cardinal repeatedly reduced the playing field to a single ball possession, eventually finding the offensive cohesion they were missing for most of the game. Late free kicks from Christyn Williams and Azzi Fudd helped build UConn and maintain its leads.

At the time, the South Carolina players were watching, fresh off their 72-59 red from Louisville, with popcorn in hand to increase their opponents for Sunday night.

Natalie Weiner reported from Minneapolis.

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