BRIDGEPORT — For the ninth straight season, the UConn Huskies will be headed to the Final Four.
The top seed UConn Huskies defeated No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns 86-65 in front of a sold out crowd in the Bridgeport Regional Final.
The trio of Morgan Tuck, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were all named to the Bridgeport Region All-Tournament team as they advanced to their fourth straight Final Four as a group. Although they are one step away from their ultimate goal, they are not taking this latest accomplishment lightly.
“It means a lot,” Tuck said. “This is a big part of us reaching our goal, and we have to go to the Final Four to do that. So I think that as a team, we're just really excited to be able to go and enjoy the Final Four and then, hopefully, win two games.”
Knocking on History’s Door
While any trip to the Final Four is a special accomplishment, the Huskies have a chance to do something that has never been accomplished. They can win their fourth straight National Championship.
For seniors Stewart and Jefferson, and redshirt junior Tuck, that is something they set out to do the moment they stepped on campus. Now, that goal is within sight.
This trio has now won 149 games together since their careers began. This is the second most in NCAA history. They trail the record of 151 wins, which is held by UConn’s senior class of 2011 that won 150 games together.
It became clear how important winning is to the trio when Jefferson went down briefly with an ankle injury and decided to stay in the game. Jefferson limping up the court to get back into the play on defense was symbolic of what this team is all about.
It was no surprise to her teammates, however, that know just how bad this team wants to make another trip to the Final Four.
“Well, when Mo went down, we knew she was going to get back up,” Stewart said. We knew that our senior guard, our point guard, she wasn't going to leave the game unless she was unable to move, unable to walk, that kind of thing. She wanted to be out there with us because she knew that we needed her help.”
Her toughness was once again exemplified when Jefferson went flying into the stands for a loose ball with a 20-point lead with 1:52 seconds left in the game.
While chasing championships, this team is not losing sight of the fact that a major era in UConn basketball is reaching its final chapter.
“We're really excited to go to the Final Four,” Stewart said. “I think that any time you go, it's a lot of fun, there's a lot going on, there's — coach is talking about this is our last trip with this team. Last time to be with this team, and I think we're just going to enjoy it. Especially as seniors — last time it's going to be like this.”
Foul trouble? Call on Collier
When both Tuck and Gabby Williams were sent to the bench in the second quarter with two personal fouls, it could have meant trouble for UConn against a big Texas frontcourt.
Texas was hanging around in the game and could have used Tuck’s absence as a chance to make a move.
Especially with the hot start that Tuck had, it would have been natural to expect a dip in offense. Tuck had a very productive first quarter where she scored 10 points, making all four of her field goal attempts.
However, freshman forward Napheesa Collier stepped up to fill the void. When Collier entered the game for Tuck they held a 30-25 lead with 6:25 remaining in the second quarter.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma knew he had to help his talented freshman believe that they can contribute to the game under pressure.
“You're playing with the two best players in the country out there, relax and just enjoy it,” Auriemma said. “Because I could tell that there was a little bit of anxiety in the freshmen. Just do what you're good at. And the two of them, both Lou and Napheesa were really, really good tonight. Napheesa did exactly what I would expect her to do.”
Collier had seven of her nine points in the second quarter and helped to spark a 10-3 run that UConn went on to finish the half leading 46-29.
Freshman sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson finished with nine points and three made 3-pointers.
Spencer Mayfield is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.