This is the first time UConn women’s basketball has competed in a national championship game since 2016. UConn’s Huskies are extending their season by one game in front of Paige Bueckers’ hometown crowd without prominent backup players.
On Sunday, the No. 2 seeded Huskies ended their five-year streak of losing in the Final Four by defeating No. 1 Stanford 63-58 in the Target Center to advance to the title game. This is UConn’s 12th appearance in the title game, and they have never lost a chance to win the trophy. with an 11-0 record in this year’s NCAA Tournament championship game
When UConn faces South Carolina for the championship, it will have the opportunity to exact vengeance. On November 22, UConn was defeated by South Carolina’s Gamecocks in the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship. South Carolina returns to the championship game for the second time, having won the title in 2017.
Bueckers leads the team in scoring with 14 points and five assists. Evina Westbrook, a fifth-year senior, came in second with a score of 12. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a senior, finished with a team-high 10 rebounds despite playing on four fouls. UConn won the game by shooting 15-of-17 from the foul line at the end of the third quarter.
The size of Stanford made it difficult for UConn to get out of the starting lineup for Friday’s game right away. The Huskies’ response was to defend. The Cardinal only took one of their first nine shots.
Stanford took a step forward when Aaliyah Edwards was called for her first foul of the season three and a quarter minutes into the game. To avoid any further penalties, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma ended the first period with a lineup of four guards. However, the Huskies continued to have issues.
Nelson-Odour had two players at the end of the first half and forced UConn’s eight rotational players to be on the floor before halftime. Less than a minute into the second half, Edwards was called for her second penalty, and she was immediately followed by Azzi Fudd, who was also called for her second. The two were then switched.
On the final weekend of her collegiate career, the game was played, and Westbrook kept UConn’s energy up. The fifth-year senior made an impressive block in the first quarter and scored three three-pointers later in the game. In addition, the old was the only player on both teams to make any shots beyond the arch.
With less than an hour remaining in the first half, Stanford took its first lead of the game. Nika Muhl’s layup snapped the line, giving the Huskies a piece of one-point information at the half. UConn played sluggishly and tried to avoid more penalties. The Cardinal used a seven-game winning streak to defeat UConn 20-6 on the floor, putting them ahead by one point.
Throughout the third period, UConn’s defense was on display. Stanford was held scoreless for 3 minutes and 43 seconds by the Huskies. The Stanford Cardinal had to move away from the shot clock to take last-second shots, resulting in the game’s second shot clock violation. Although the two players, Edwards and Nelson-Ododa, were given a warning for third personals, UConn could rely on its defensive players to keep Stanford from taking the lead, defeating the current champions 12-11 in the second period.
A 3-pointer by Christyn Williams, who also hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter, was followed by a pair of free throws from Nelson-Ododa, giving UConn an eight-point lead early in the fourth. The 18,268-person crowd in Minneapolis erupted when Hopkins native Bueckers stole the ball off a Stanford dribble and scored on the other side. However, the match’s final moments were rocky.
Stanford responded to Fudd’s two free throws with a layup by Cameron Brink with 18.4 seconds remaining to make it a two-point game. Lacie Hull was then fouled by Williams, who made all of her free throws to put UConn ahead for good. Stanford attempted one more three-point shot. This season, UConn will play one additional game. The Huskies’ season has been a rollercoaster ride, and they are now closing it out with a chance to win the national championship.