Women's College Basketball

UConn Outlasts Stanford, Heads to Women’s National Championship Game


UConn Husky guard Nika Mühl brings the ball up the court during Friday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal game against Stanford at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

MINNEAPOLIS – Four days after winning a double overtime game to earn the right to go to the Final Four, the UConn Huskies closed out Friday night’s semifinal matchups with a hard-fought 63-58 win over the defending national champion Stanford University. With the victory, the Huskies move on to their first championship game since 2016.

Right from the start, both teams played tough defense. UConn guard Christyn Williams scored on a jumper just outside the paint shortly after the opening tip to give the Huskies the early 2-0 lead. This was followed by UConn guard Paige Bueckers jump shot with 8:07 left in the first quarter to extend the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stanford missed their first six shots before forward Cameron Brink put them on the scoreboard with a turnaround jumper to make it 4-2 in favor of UConn as three minutes elapsed in the contest.

UConn missed their next four shots until guard Azzi Fudd hit a jumper with 4:23 left in the quarter. When the quarter ended, UConn maintained a 12-9 lead over Stanford. Both teams had struggled from the field. UConn shot 6-for-18 while Stanford hit on only four of their 16 shots in the quarter.

Brink scored on a driving layup with 8:21 left in the second quarter to pull Stanford to within one, 12-11. However, the scoring drought would continue for both teams as both teams combined for 0-for-7 in the next two minutes, until UConn’s Evina Westbrook hit a three-pointer off of a turnover to extend the Husky lead to 15-11.

Westbrook connected on two additional three-pointers to extend the UConn lead to six, 25-19 with 2:47 left in the half. Then Stanford finally went on a run of their own and pulled ahead on a driving layup from guard Haley Jones off of a UConn turnover with 1:20 remaining and the score 26-25 in favor of Stanford.

Husky guard Nika Mühl made a layup after an offensive rebound to give UConn the 27-26 lead at the half.

Stanford shot 36.7 percent in the first half on 11-for-30 shooting. UConn didn’t fare any better with 35.3 percent field goal percentage on 12-for-34 shooting. Both teams grabbed 22 rebounds in the first half.

Things didn’t change in the third quarter. On two occasions the score was tied, Stanford led twice by a single point. UConn forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa hit on a jumper with 59 seconds left in the third quarter to extend the UConn lead to four, their largest of the quarter. This was promptly answered by a layup from Brink. With three quarters in the books, UConn held on to a slim 39-37 lead.

Through three quarters of the game, neither team went to the foul line often. UConn converted one free throw on three attempts. Stanford made five of their nine attempts.

Nelson-Ododa scored a layup with 9:18 remaining in regulation and was fouled on the play. After converting the free throw, UConn’s lead was extended to 42-37.

Jones responded with a turnaround jumper for Stanford which was answered by a Williams three-pointer for Connecticut. Nelson-Ododa hit two free throws after the foul by Brink, which extended the UConn lead to eight, 47-39 with 7:35 left in regulation.
UConn still led by eight points with 1:26 left on the clock when Stanford made one final push. Jones scored a driving layup and was fouled by Westbrook after the turnover on the inbounds pass three seconds later. This put Jones on the line for two free throws with 1:15 left in the game. She made both of them to cut the deficit to four.

Jones immediately fouled Westbrook on the inbounds pass. The UConn guard went to the line for two free throws and hit both to extend the lead back up to six points.

Stanford guard Lacie Hull connected on a three-pointer after a turnover to cut the deficit to three points, 54-51 in favor of UConn with 54 seconds left. The last minute would feel like an eternity.

UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards scored on a fast break layup and Fudd converted two free throws. UConn pushed their lead back up to seven with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation.

Stanford forward Ashten Prechtel connected on a three-pointer which was followed by a Jones short jumper after a Westbrook turnover. With just 23 seconds left, the defending national champions had cut the deficit to two points.

Fudd was fouled on the inbounds pass and hit both free throws to give UConn the four point lead, 60-56 with 22 seconds on the clock.

Stanford only took four seconds off the clock when Brink scored on a layup to pull back to a two point deficit.

Once again, UConn was fouled on the inbounds pass and converted two free throws.

Stanford had one last chance to keep in the game. With just 7 seconds left, Prechtel missed the three point shot which resulted in a turnover. Edwards was fouled on the inbounds play and her free throws put the game out of reach. UConn defeated the defending champions 63-58 and will now go to the National Championship game against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Stanford guard Haley Jones attempts to drive past UConn guard Evina Westbrook during Friday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal game at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

Stanford’s Haley Jones led all scorers and rebounders with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Brink chipped in 15 more for Stanford. Bueckers led UConn with 14, Westbrook added 12 and Williams netted 10. Nelson-Ododa led UConn with 10 rebounds. UConn outrebounded Stanford 46 to 37.

UConn finished the game with 36.8 percent from the field on 21-for-57 shooting and five three-pointers. Stanford shot 34.8 percent from the field on 23-for-66 shooting and four three-point shots made. UConn had the edge in free throws, 16-for-20, compared to Stanford’s 8-for-13 from the line.

“I’m really proud of our team. I thought we had a great season,” said Stanford head coach Tara Vanderveer. “We did not play very well tonight, and we just — I think we really struggled running our offense. I think there were some self-inflicted wounds, what we were doing out there, and it was disappointing… But all in all, we just came up short, and we lost to a really good team. Connecticut played very well.”

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, “We said the other day that points are hard to come by in this tournament. Today was certainly no different. You’re going to have to win some other way than thinking you’re just going to come out here and it’s going to be nicey nicey and they’re going to let you shoot whatever shot you want to shoot. And same with them, we’re going to guard them, they’re going to guard us and you’ve just got to tough it out, you’ve got to rebound the ball better, you’ve got to play defense better, you’ve got to get every loose ball, you’ve got to make your free throws.”

“We didn’t exactly play our A game on the offensive end, but the things we needed to do when we had to do them, we came up big. I don’t know what more I can say about this group than we’ve been saying, but it was pretty remarkable, to be honest with you,” he added.

With the Final Four being played in Minneapolis, which is near Bueckers’s hometown, the sophomore guard was quick to dismiss anything to do with playing in her hometown, focusing instead to keep the discussion centered on the team.

UConn guard Paige Bueckers drives in transition during Friday night’s NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal against Stanford at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

“It’s a Final Four game and everybody is going to lay it on the line and that’s just basketball. It doesn’t really matter the location and where we’re playing. I think same thing goes for last year’s Final Four [in San Antonio, Texas]. We’re just trying to win and we’re just trying to keep playing with this team. It’s awesome that it’s at my hometown, but that’s not really our focus, our team’s focus, my focus. We’re all just trying to win, and whatever we have to do to do it, I think we’re going to keep doing that,” said Bueckers.

Last season in San Antonio, UConn was on the short end of a 69-59 semifinal game against the Arizona Wildcats, who ended up losing to Stanford in the championship game. There is little doubt that last year’s loss was in the back of the minds of veteran Husky players.

“As easy as I can put it, we wanted to win the game. But we knew it was going to be a tough one. Stanford is a great team. They put up a great fight. It was a great game,” said Westbrook. “But at the same time, I think in the back of our minds we knew what we needed to do to win this game, and I think our defense was the biggest emphasis for us, especially in that second half.”

“I think your goal is always to kind of end the season on a W, and unfortunately that didn’t happen for us tonight. We were just in there, it’s some tears but it’s a lot of hugs,” said Stanford forward Francesca Belibi about the mood in the locker room after the game. “ I think at the end of the day, we’re all very disappointed in the outcome of today’s game, but we have to kind of take into account everything that we’ve accomplished and everything we’ve done… , besides all the wins and all the championships, I’m most proud of how I’ve been able to see everyone grow and become the people that they are and the people they’ll continue to be.”

Auriemma mentioned how in past years, UConn has come into the Final Four as the top seed that everybody considered to be the best team in the tournament. This year, he said, doesn’t have that feel to him.

“This one — I’ve gone into other games at this time and lost and felt a sense of, like — really it took me a long, long time to get over some of the losses in this particular game. This one I don’t think it would have taken me a long time to get over it because we just gave it everything we had, and I knew that it might not be enough,” said Auriemma. “But fortunately for us, Stanford didn’t have their best stuff, and we made a couple big plays, and by some unknown miracle, we’re playing Sunday night.”

UConn will face the University of South Carolina in the National Championship game at 7 p.m. CT Sunday at Target Center in Minneapolis. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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