Huskies headed to New Orleans
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Connecticut is headed back to a familiar place -- the Final Four.
Breanna Stewart scored 21 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 17 to help top-seed UConn rout Kentucky 83-53 on Monday night and advance to a record sixth-straight national semifinal.
The Huskies will face either Notre Dame or Duke in the national semifinals on Sunday in New Orleans. The Irish and Blue Devils play Tuesday night. UConn (33-4) broke a tie with Stanford (2008-12), LSU (2004-08) and itself (2000-04) by reaching the Final Four again.
It was the second straight season that UConn beat Kentucky in the regional finals. The Huskies topped the Wildcats by 15 last year 105 miles to the north of Bridgeport in Kingston, R.I.
This game wasn’t as close. Kentucky stayed close for the first 10 minutes with their "40 minutes of dread" defense. Then UConn turned up its own defensive intensity.
The Huskies trailed 23-22 with just 9 minutes left in the first half. That’s when Stewart -- honored as the outstanding player of the Bridgeport Regional -- and UConn’s "no-name" defense took over allowing three points the rest of the half. Kentucky missed 13 of its final 14 shots in the half with the only make coming when Jelleah Sidney banked in a 3-pointer from the wing.
While UConn was playing lockdown defense, Stewart was dominating on the offensive end. The 6-foot-4 star, who was the national high school player of the year last season, scored nine points and had a vicious two-handed block during that closing run.
After Sidney’s 3-pointer, Stewart calmly converted a three-point play on the other end. UConn led 48-26 at the half.
Kentucky couldn’t get within 20 in the second half.
The loudest cheer of the night from the sellout crowd of nearly 8,600 came when the video board showed highlights of Louisville’s upset victory over Baylor on Sunday night.
UConn’s only losses this season came to Baylor and three times to Notre Dame.
Stewart didn’t play well in most of those losses, but really has stepped her game up over the past few weeks. After struggling through the middle part of the season, the heralded first-year has averaged 16.4 points since the start of the Big East tournament.
It’s been an unusual season for UConn, which for the first time in 19 years didn’t win either the Big East regular season or tournament title. Now the Huskies are two wins away from an eighth national championship.
This was the 19th time in the past 23 seasons that UConn had reached the regional final. They have made the Final Four 14 times overall, including the last six.
None of the regional final games during this current run have been close with only Rutgers coming within 10 in 2008. UConn’s lead ballooned to 36 points in the second half of this game. When the final buzzer sounded Mosqueda-Lewis jumped into the arms of Stewart to celebrate.
Coach Geno Auriemma got a gritty effort out of junior center Stefanie Dolson, who has a stress fracture in her right ankle and an injured left foot as well. She wore a brace on her left leg and a compression sock on her right one. While she only scored two points, she had 11 rebounds and four assists.
The loss brought to a close a record year for the Wildcats (30-5). Kentucky had the most victories in school history. Not bad for a school rich in basketball tradition on the men’s side. Still coach Matthew Mitchell was left searching for the school’s first trip to the Final Four.
The Wildcats have made the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons and reached the regional finals in three of those years falling short each time.
Senior A’dia Mathies, the two-time SEC player of the year, had a quiet game scoring only 14 points with 11 of them coming in the second half. Kastine Evans, who hit the big 3-pointer to help beat Delaware in the regional semifinals had just two points on 1 of 9 shooting. Her older brother R.J., who played on the UConn’s men’s basketball team this season, sat behind the Wildcats bench in a Kentucky shirt.
The Huskies have won 43 of their past 44 NCAA games in the state of Connecticut, including going 9-1 in Bridgeport. The lone blemish came against Duke in 2006 in the regional final.
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