UConn reaches 14th straight Final Four, tops NC State in 2OT
Published 11:00 pm Monday, March 28, 2022
By Doug Feinberg
AP Basketball Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Paige Bueckers scored 15 of her 27 points in the two overtimes, and UConn beat North Carolina State 91-87 to extend the Huskies’ record women’s Final Four streak to 14 straight on Monday night.
The Huskies, who had been 0-for-5 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, will face top seed Stanford on Friday night in the national semifinals in Minneapolis.
Bueckers, who grew up 10 miles outside the site of the Final Four, scored the first five points in the second overtime to lift the Huskies (29-5).
“Two days ago I said, ‘Win or go home’, but we won and I’m still going home,” Bueckers said. “This is crazy. I’m just so excited no matter the location, no matter where it is.”
The sensational sophomore, who missed two months this season with a knee injury, once again looked like the player who was the AP Player of the Year in 2021. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Region.
“Thank God Paige came back, because she just gives everybody so much confidence and then everybody just kind of played and everybody took turns making plays,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was just an amazing basketball game and it was a great showcase for our sport.”
With N.C. State within 86-84 in the second OT, Christyn Williams hit the second of two free throws and then a layup with 21 seconds left to give UConn a 89-85 lead.
Jakia Brown-Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds in the first overtime to tie the game, then made a layup to get the Wolfpack within two, but Williams converted a layup off the inbounds to seal the win.
UConn had lost senior center Dorka Juhasz to a forearm injury earlier in the game.
“This team has been through so much and it’s only made us stronger,” Bueckers said. “And if we see one of our sisters go down, we’re going to do it for her. We all love each other, we’re all so close. It just signifies what we’ve been through all year. Whole bunch of adversity, highs and lows, ups and downs. We stayed composed and we stayed together.”
Brown-Turner finished with 20 points for N.C. State (32-4), and Elissa Cunane scored 18. Williams had 21 points for UConn and freshman Azzi Fudd had 19.
Both teams had chances to win in the final 30 seconds of regulation. UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa was fouled with 28 seconds left and missed both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Diamond Johnson dribbled down the clock and drove before passing it back out to Kai Crutchfield, who was way off on a deep 3-pointer from the wing.
N.C. State was trying to reach the national semifinals for the second time in school history. The Wolfpack made it that far in 1998, beating the Huskies in the Elite Eight that season to advance. None of the current roster was even alive then.
“This journey has been incredible and this team has done so much and accomplished so much,” said Cunane, a senior. “Although this is hurtful right now, proud of all we’ve done this season. I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”
Crutchfield, Raina Perez and Kayla Jones all came back this year using their extra COVID-19 season that was granted by the NCAA to try and lift the Wolfpack to new heights. They succeeded, advancing farther than the team had in 24 years.
The Huskies dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues all season and had their most losses since 2012, including their first conference defeat in nine years and their first loss to an unranked team since 2012.
Things have been looking up for UConn since the team started getting healthy, starting with Bueckers.
This was the first double-OT game in women’s NCAA Tournament history in the regional final or later.
UConn suffered a major blow when Juhasz went down in the first half with a scary-looking injury just above her left wrist. She was fouled on a putback attempt and landed awkwardly when she tried to put her hands down to brace her fall.
Juhasz was on the floor in tears and was helped back to the locker room with her team up by seven points. The Huskies extended the advantage to 10 before N.C. State cut it to 34-28 at the half.
She returned to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter dressed in warmups with with her arm in a sling.
How they got here
UConn: Beat Mercer in the opening round, UCF in the second round and Indiana in the Sweet 16.
N.C. State: Topped Longwood in the first round, Kansas State in the second round and Notre Dame in the regional semifinals.
Till we meet again
This was the first meeting between the schools since the 2006-07 season. They are scheduled to play the next two seasons.
“I agreed to a series with UConn starting next year,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Coming back here next year, then they’ll come to us the following year.”