GAME! REGION! After what can only be described as the best game of the season, UConn women’s basketball is going back to the NCAA Final Four for the 14th straight year with their massive win over NC State. The teams went back and forth, toe-to-toe in a contest where 40 minutes was not enough. 45 minutes wasn’t either. 50 minutes was the magic number and after two overtimes, the Huskies grabbed the victory and will be headed to Minneapolis, MN for the Final Four.
“If you watched the game, there’s not much you can say to add to it,” UConn Coach Geno Auriemma noted. “It was remarkable. One of the best games I’ve ever been a part of since I came to UConn. It was amazing the way the 10 kids on the court were playing for their lives, not wanting to lose. It’s a shame one of us had to lose. If there’s two teams out there better than this one…holy moly. Really proud of these guys. They don’t make it easy, but they make it worth it.”
The two stars of the show were Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, who hit countless clutch shots to lift the Huskies to the incredible win. Bueckers collected 27 points and six boards, while Fudd notched 19 points and five rebounds. The duo was massive as UConn weathered the storm known as NC State to survive and advance.
“I was literally thinking we have Paige Bueckers, and they don’t,” senior guard Christyn Williams said with a laugh. “What she does is not surprising.”
“I would’ve loved to watch this game,” Bueckers said. “It was a lot of fun to play in. Two competitive teams playing for our lives, and we found a way to win. I try to stay confident in myself. It’s not going to always be easy. My teammates and coaches instill the confidence in me trusting me in these moments.”
To open up the contest, Kayla Jones got loose for an open layup. On the next possession, Bueckers found an open Williams, who knocked down a deep three, which she followed up with a tough layup. Jones then found herself wide open on the baseline, knocking down a midrange jumper. Bueckers quickly responded though, getting inside for an and one layup, while Williams added a long two. Elissa Cunane then found herself ahead of the defense, hitting an easy layup, which Olivia Nelson-Ododa followed with a long two.
Nelson-Ododa found Aaliyah Edwards on the pick and roll, but soon after, Kai Crutchfield dropped in a jumper. Williams responded with the layup, but Paina Perez cut the lead to one with the triple. A Fudd free throw closed out the quarter, making it a 16-14 UConn advantage.
Fudd added to her total with a deep ball to start the frame, and Jada Boyd and Dorka Juhasz traded layups. Nika Muhl forced a turnover off the ensuing inbounds play and dropped in a difficult layup. Evina Westbrook poured on a layup of her own to increase the lead to nine and force a NC State timeout. Boyd hit four straight free throws to cut it to five, as Juhasz suffered an apparent injury to her wrist that removed her from the game. Fudd went on her own 5-0 run to push the lead to double-digits and Bueckers added an 18-footer. An NC State 4-0 run cut the lead to six, but a Williams two brought it back to eight. A Cunane layup cut it to six and Williams missed the jumper at the buzzer, giving UConn a 34-28 lead at the half.
Jakia Brown-Turner got the third period started with a fastbreak layup and Cunane converted an and-one to cut it to just one. A composed Bueckers hit a nice jumper, then swatted a shot on the other end, before hitting another two. Westbrook overplayed a pass, which left Brown-Turner open for the two. Fudd hit a beautiful reverse layup, but Brown-Turner got another to go. On the next fastbreak, Bueckers swished another midrange shot and Nelson-Ododa squeezed in a layup. Boyd got a favorable bounce on her jumper and Diamond Johnson hit a beautiful jab step which led to a three to close the deficit to 44-43 going into the fourth.
For the first time since the first minute of play, NC State got the lead thanks to the Boyd layup, but Fudd got it back with the jumper. Boyd added another close shot and Johnson extended the Wolfpack lead to four with the triple, forcing a UConn timeout. Westbrook hit a massive jumper to cut it to two, but Brown-Turner undid her work with a nice shot of her own. Off an offensive rebound, Williams was able line up a three, which was followed by a Nika Muhl steal and outlet pass to Williams for a deuce, sending Total Mortgage Arena into a frenzy.
Brown-Turner hit a pair from the line and Boyd added a free throw of her own. Fudd tied things up with a layup, but Cunane promptly responded with a deuce. After a timeout, Edwards dropped in the layup, which Fudd followed with a steal and score. Johnson got Fudd up in the air then drove in for the bucket, but Bueckers responded with yet another midrange shot to grab a two point lead.
A miscommunication led to a Husky shot clock violation, leading to a Cunane bucket to tie things up. After three missed shots and as many offensive rebounds, Nelson-Ododa drew a foul. She missed both free throws to keep it tied, giving NC State the ball with 26 seconds left. After draining the clock, Crutchfield air-balled the potential game-winner, sending it to overtime.
Cunane opened up overtime with a difficult layup, but Nelson-Ododa answered in a big way, getting a massive and-one layup to go, although missing the free throw. Bueckers then got to the line, hitting both, but Brown-Turner knotted it up again with the post hook. Late in the shot clock, Bueckers came off a screen and nailed a shot from 17 feet out. Crutchfield got back with a triple, but Bueckers responded with another jumper. Jones hit another layup inside, but Bueckers nailed a pair of free throws.
Fudd then drove in and dished it to Edwards, who hit the close shot to extend the lead to three. Jones got the quick two with 28 ticks to go and Perez was able to foul Fudd before the ball was inbounded, who nailed both free throws. Edwards then made a critical mistake, fouling Crutchfield on her three-point shot, resulting in two of three made free throws. Bueckers was fouled, hitting both again with six seconds left. Brown-Turner added to her terrific night with the biggest shot of her career, a buzzer beating triple to send the game to double overtime.
“I really just zoned out the crowd and did what my team needed from me,” Brown-Turner noted.
Bueckers got off a screen in the first possession of 2OT, hitting a massive three, but Cunane dropped in a layup. Bueckers then was smothered on defense, although she still managed to hit a 18-footer. Brown-Turner missed a bunny and a frustration foul on Jones sent Edwards to the line for two, who hit both. Crutchfield narrowed the deficit to two with the long ball. Fudd launched a three to respond and although she missed, Edwards got the putback to go.
Cunane scored another layup to get within two and Williams drew the blocking foul, netting one of two. Boyd then hit one of two from the stripe and Williams broke the press for the easy lay-in, increasing the Husky lead to four, effectively ending the game.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” NC State Wes Moore mentioned. “It was a battle, back and forth. Not letting the crowd, the letters on their jerseys faze them. It’s an honor to be with [my players].”
“I take it one game at a time,” Bueckers noted on coming to her home state of Minnesota. “It’s obviously extra motivation to go home and have the Final Four there, but we’re going to fight for any game.”
The Huskies will next play rival Stanford at the Target Center this Friday in the Final Four.