UConn Routs South Carolina 94-65, Heads Back to Final Four
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies are headed back to a familiar spot — the Final Four.
Crystal Dangerfield led the way as top-seeded UConn routed No. 2 South Carolina 94-65 on Monday night to reach the national semifinals for a record 11th consecutive year.
The Huskies broke a tie with John Wooden and the UCLA men's team for the Division I record for consecutive Final Four appearances. UConn is headed to the national semifinals for the 19th time, breaking a tie with Tennessee for the most in women's basketball history.
While the Huskies are regular participants in the Final Four, they are not the defending champions this time around. Their 111-game winning streak and run of four straight national championships were stopped by a last-second overtime loss to Mississippi State in last year's semifinals.
UConn will face former Big East rival Notre Dame on Friday night in Columbus, Ohio.
"Every team starts the season saying that's our goal to go to the Final Four. For us, it's an opportunity to go back to where we felt like we didn't really give our best effort," Auriemma said. "We lost to a really good team. Happened in a way that was really, really disappointing. I know that we were anxious to go back and put ourselves in that same situation and see how much we've changed since last year."
The Albany Regional final featured the past two NCAA champions in a rare occurrence for the women's tournament. The Huskies (36-0) quickly turned it into a mismatch with stellar 3-point shooting.
Dangerfield scored 19 of her 21 points in the first half. Gabby Williams had 23 points as UConn scored the most points in school history for this round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Tonight, my teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open and I was able to knock those shots in early," Dangerfield said.
UConn went right at South Carolina in the first half, connecting on 9 of 10 3-pointers — including a perfect 5 for 5 by Dangerfield. Her last 3 of the second quarter made it 52-31 and delighted a crowd that included former UConn greats Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart, who helped the Huskies to four consecutive national championships. Stewart grew up 2 hours west of Albany.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored 17 points and Napheesa Collier had 16 as UConn shot 59 percent (37 for 63) from the field. Williams was named most outstanding player of the region.
"I think we definitely have something to prove," Williams said of the Final Four. "Not only to the rest of the world, but to ourselves as well."
The loss ended the stellar career of South Carolina post A'ja Wilson. The unanimous AP All-American, who grew up a few miles from the Gamecocks' campus, helped the school win its first national championship last season and guided the team to two Final Fours in her four years. She did all she could to make it a third trip to the national semifinals.
Wilson had 27 points for South Carolina (29-7), but it wasn't nearly enough. Coach Dawn Staley took her star out with just over 3 minutes left in the game and her team down 31 points.
"We got beat by a really good UConn team," Staley said. "We didn't have enough to compete in the way we would have liked to. Now all is well in women's basketball."
MEETING OF FORMER CHAMPS
This was the first time the previous two national champions met in the NCAAs since 1997 when UConn lost to Tennessee. It had happened twice before that.
Albany had the best attendance of the four regionals, with over 10,000 fans coming on Friday night for the semifinals and 9,522 showing up Monday night. That two-day total easily eclipsed the 15,949 from 2015 when Albany last hosted the regional.
"The attendance is a result of a lot of hard work by people in the community who are interested in seeing women's basketball develop to a higher level in Albany," MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. "We got fortunate with the addition of Buffalo, it brought a state interest to the mix of teams. We were very fortunate to have the defending national champ playing the perennial national champ in our final."
Albany will host again next year.
"Having it back-to-back years lays a foundation to build on," Ensor said. "Good word of mouth from 2015 helped this year. Size of crowds this year will help sell tickets earlier in 2019."