This is what March is all about.
Heading into last night’s matchup between UConn and the No. 2 seeded Baylor, expectations were high and the Huskies did not disappoint. It took all 40 minutes, but with a couple big runs, contributions across the board and a clutch defensive stop to end the game, the Huskies punched their ticket to the team’s 13th straight Final Four, topping the Lady Bears 69-67 in a matchup that is sure to go down in the history books.
“Getting a tough win like that against one of the best teams in the country, it’s so rewarding just to hear that final buzzer go off and you win and make it to the Final Four,” Paige Bueckers said. “It’s really unexplainable the feeling you get from it. It’s like a dream come true.”
The game got off to a blistering pace, with UConn and Baylor combining for 50 points in the opening quarter, the most scored in one period in the tournament thus far. Both teams had contributions from all over, with Paige Bueckers (9), Evina Westbrook (8) and Christyn Williams (7) all getting on the board early for the Huskies, while Moon Ursin, NaLyssa Smith and DiJonai Carrington got in the scoring column for the Lady Bears.
But whereas the first quarter was all about pace and getting out on the break, the second quarter looked much slower, allowing Baylor’s defense to turn the tide. The Huskies scored just 11 points in the quarter while a big run from the Lady Bears put them 39-37 at the half, with UConn being outrebounded 10-5 on the offensive glass and outscored in the paint 26-12.
Things got worse for UConn to start the second half, as a five-minute scoring drought and an 8-0 Lady Bears run saw the Huskies go down 10 — their largest deficit of the tournament — but Auriemma, Bueckers and Williams weren’t ready to give up.
“I said look, ‘you only have two choices: you either do the things that we do every day or we go home, it’s not that complicated,’” Auriemma recalled telling his team in the timeout. “And I think they didn’t wanna go home. I think they’d rather keep playing basketball, so that’s what happened.”
Midway through the third quarter, Baylor’s leader and defensive stopper DiDi Richards went down with an injury and was forced to exit the game, opening an opportunity for UConn’s star-studded backcourt to shine that they would not pass up. After Richards’ exit, Bueckers, Williams and Aaliyah Edwards exploded for a 19-0 run continuing into the final quarter that put the Huskies back up nine with a few minutes left in the fourth.
A 12-4 response from the Lady Bears cut UConn’s lead back to two and the longest thirty seconds of the night began.
Auriemma called a timeout to advance the ball with 22 seconds left. Off the inbound it was Christyn Williams who got the ball and was immediately fouled. The junior had scored the last six points for UConn, having eclipsed the 20-point mark for the second straight game, and was headed to the line to ice it. But free throw one was too strong, and free throw two was short, giving Baylor the ball with 22 seconds to play down one.
The ball went into DiJonai Carrington’s hands outside the arc. The Stanford transfer had lit up UConn all day for a team-high 22 and was hoping to give her team the lead and the win. She drove left toward Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa and was met with hands in the face. A call that could have gone either way ended in UConn’s favor, as Williams grabbed the board and was fouled, heading back to the line with another chance to end it.
The junior missed the first, but cashed in on the second to score UConn’s last seven points, and Bueckers steal on the ensuing inbound was enough to clinch the win for the Huskies, their first against Baylor in two years and one they won’t soon forget.
Bueckers and Williams led the way offensively in the game, combining for 49 points, but deserving of just as much credit should be Edwards and Nelson-Ododa.
The duo was held to just seven combined points and dealt with foul trouble most of the game, but their work inside against the most dominant interior team in women’s college basketball was incredible. Edwards and Nelson-Ododa grabbed a combined 15 boards including five on the offensive end, to go along with eight blocks, shutting down the Lady Bear’s main point of attack for most of the game and helping clinch the win.
Next up for the Huskies is a matchup against No. 3 Arizona in the Final Four as UConn tries to make it back to the National Championship for the first time since 2016. But, until then, the Huskies are celebrating once again.