Huskies reach the Final Four for the seventh straight year, Mosqueda-Lewis named regional MOP
Moriah Jefferson drives through St. Joseph’s defense in an NCAA women’s basketball tournament game last month. The Huskies’ triumph over Texas A&M in last night’s match-up will take the team to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn., where they will play the winner of the North Carolina and Stanford in today’s Elite Eight game. File Photo/The Daily Campus
Geno Auriemma said after his team's hard-fought win over BYU that the NCAA tournament isn't supposed to be easy. Monday night, No. 3 Texas A&M made sure it wasn't, but it was still top-seeded UConn that advanced to the Final Four with a 69-54 win.
"It's not easy to beat anybody at this time of the year because everybody's playing their best basketball," Auriemma said. "We beat a pretty good team today, and I'm really proud of my team. I thought they were really, really, really good when we needed to be really, really, really good."
Two days after falling behind in the second half for the first time all season against BYU, the Huskies matched their biggest deficit of the season - seven points - 6:12 into the game.
But the points came in bunches for UConn. A 7-0 run over 1:28 leveled the score at 11-11, and a 15-2 stretch that spanned 5:17 stretched the lead to 13 points.
Texas A&M, however, would not go away. By the first media timeout of the second half, the Aggies had the UConn lead down to three points before the Huskies made a push to turn them away.
"It was really important (to stay composed)," Moriah Jefferson said. "That's why the last game (vs. BYU), it was really important that we did, because we knew that we could. We had to come out and grind it out and turn up the defense."
A big piece of the Huskies' defense was their size and strength in the paint. UConn blocked 10 shots on the night - eight courtesy of Stefanie Dolson - which pushed them past Baylor's NCAA record of 310 rejections in a single season.
Dolson finished the night nearing a triple-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
After a terrible 3-for-19 3-point shooting night against the Cougars in the Sweet 16, the Huskies started off cold from behind the arc once again. But they settled in after missing all of their first four shots and finished the night at 39 percent.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis knocked down the first of those 3s, and seven of 15 field goals on the night. Her 17 team-high points helped earn her unanimous Lincoln Regional Most Outstanding Player honors and continued her streak of scoring double-digits in all 15 NCAA tournament games she's played.
"She was just incredible - offensively and defensively," Jefferson said.
Breanna Stewart found herself in foul trouble early on and was forced to sit the last eight minutes of the first half. But without their National Player of the Year candidate on the floor, the Huskies managed to outscore Texas A&M 17-8 and carried an 11-point lead into the locker room.
After the break, the long layover showed for Stewart. Usually the best offensive threat on the court, the sophomore forward had just four points through the first 25 minutes. Eventually, she found a bit of a rhythm and made a living from the charity stripe, scoring six of her 13 points from the free-throw line.
"This wasn't even Breanna's best ballgame, but she just does so much," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said.
For the Huskies, this is the 15th Final Four in program history and the seventh straight year they've made it to the season's final weekend.
"It feels amazing," Dolson said. "It's really unexplainable. There's a lot of people in the country that play basketball that can't even say that they make it once or have the opportunity to play for a national championship. For me to have the opportunity four times, and this being my senior year, I'm just extremely excited."
Dolson and Bria Hartley were both named to the Lincoln Regional all-tournament team, in addition to Texas A&M's Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams.
UConn will play the winner of No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 North Carolina in Nashville, Tenn. Sunday. That game will take place at either 6:30 or 9 p.m. on ESPN.
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