Huskies beat UK, reach Final Four in Denver
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 00:03
KINGSTON, R.I. -- Sophomore Stefanie Dolson carried UConn early, freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis stepped up late and senior Tiffany Hayes dominated throughout to lead the UConn women’s basketball team to its record-tying fifth straight Final Four.
The Huskies used a 17-3 run midway through the second half to race past second-seeded Kentucky (28-7, 13-3 SEC) 80-65 Tuesday night at the Ryan Center in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight.
Hayes finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and three steals en route to being named the Kingston Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.
When asked if it was the best game of her career, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, “I’m sure she has [had better games]. I just don’t know that it’s been in this moment, at this time when we really needed her.”
“We don’t need anybody to be more than they are,” added Auriemma, whose 13 Final Four appearances is second all time. “You just can’t afford to be less than you are. And I think a lot of times, Tiffany got herself caught in being less than she was. And tonight … she was exactly what we needed her to be.”
Dolson contributed 13 points, eights rebounds, five assists and three blocks against the Wildcats and was named to the region’s All-Tournament Team.
Gonzaga’s Mia Nickson, Gonzaga’s Kayla Standish and Kentucky’s Samarie Walker – who transferred from UConn midway through the 2010-11 season – were also named to the All-Tourney squad.
Kentucky shot just 19-61 (31.1 percent) for the game, including a 25.8 percent clip in the second half.
The Huskies, meanwhile, shot 51.1 percent for the game and assisted on 21 of 23 made baskets, including all 14 field goals in the first half. UConn also won the rebounding battle 40-26.
The Huskies jumped on Kentucky’s pressure defense early, hitting their first four shots to take a 9-0 lead and forcing Wildcat coach Matthew Mitchell to call a timeout 2:15 in. UConn would hit its first seven shots of the game until Mosqueda-Lewis missed a 3-point jumper over eight minutes in.
But foul trouble and a slew of turnovers helped Kentucky get back in it. The Wildcats used an 8-0 late in the first half – six of which came off free throws – to take a 33-30 lead. Kentucky went 14-for-14 from the charity stripe in the first half.
It looked as though the game would be tied at 39 heading into halftime. But with 2.1 seconds to go, Hayes launched a home run pass from underneath her own basket, which found its way to Kelly Faris, who broke from the rest of the field to lay it in at the buzzer.
“We huddled, and we definitely talked about the play,” Hayes said in the postgame press conference. “Kelly definitely said if they play it wrong she’s going to go long, so I was definitely looking for that first. And she went, and I threw the perfect pass, and she caught it like a running back and she finished.”
The score remained close until midway through the second half, when the Huskies used a 17-3 run – capped by a Mosqueda-Lewis 3-pointer – to increase the lead to 69-52.
Kentucky was never able to get closer than 15 points the rest of the way, as UConn, which reached the double bonus with nine minutes to go, hit 19-of-22 free throws after halftime.
SEC Player of the Year A’dia Mathies finished the game with seven rebounds and eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. Walker led the way with 14 points and five rebounds for Kentucky, which tied a school record with 29 wins and reached its school record third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“We had an incredible season,” Walker said after the game. “Coach [Mitchell] said from the very beginning … that we were going to go to Denver. That was our goal, and we worked towards that every day.”
“I think last year, we went [to the Final Four] as a team led by Maya Moore, and the year before led by Tina Charles and Maya Moore, and the year before that Renee, Tina and Maya More.
Mosqueda-Lewis totaled 18 points and Hartley and Faris added 13 and 11 points, respectively. Doty had three points, six rebounds and four assists.
“This year, there isn’t any of that. It’s ‘the University of Connecticut is going to the Final Four,’ and I think that’s pretty cool once in awhile.”
Hayes honored as Third Team All-American
The Kingston Region MOP wasn’t the only accolade Hayes received this week, as the senior was named to the AP All-American Third Team on Tuesday.
Hayes, a 5-foot-9 guard, averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals this season, and was also named to All-Big East squad earlier this year.
Griner, Diggins and former UConn commit Elena DelleDonne were named to the AP All-American First Team.