BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — UConn’s headed back to the Final Four again thanks to its stellar senior class of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson.
The All-American trio took over when Texas was making a run in the third quarter to help UConn to the 86-65 victory Monday night, sending the Huskies to the national semifinals.
“We’re the seniors, and we’ve got to make big plays in big moments,” said Jefferson, who had 11 points and nine assists. “They were on a run, and we really needed to step up.”
Tuck scored 22 points and Stewart added 21 points and 13 rebounds for UConn, which is headed to the Final Four for the ninth straight time. The Huskies will be trying for a record fourth consecutive national championship.
“Nine times is a lot of Final Fours,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That’s a lot. That’s a lot of players over a lot of years. It’s not easy to do.”
The victory, UConn’s 73rd straight overall, was also the school’s 22nd consecutive one in the postseason, breaking a tie with Tennessee for the most in a row. Two more victories will give Auriemma an 11th title, moving him past vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for most all-time in college basketball history.
“We’re really excited to go to the Final Four,” said Stewart, who was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the regional. “I think that any time you go, it’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot going on. … This is our last trip with this team. Last time to be with this team. And I think we’re just going to enjoy it. Especially as seniors. Last time it’s going to be like this.”
The Huskies will join Final Four newcomers Syracuse and Washington in Indianapolis this weekend.
UConn will play Oregon State in the national semifinals Sunday night.
Making the Final Four seemed like a foregone conclusion the way UConn has played this season, winning every game by double digits. The Huskies even stepped up their play in the regionals. They shattered their record when they routed Mississippi State in the Sweet 16 by an NCAA-best 60 points.
This was the second straight year that the Huskies (36-0) ended the Longhorns’ season. UConn beat Texas (31-5) by a then-record 51 points last season in the Sweet 16. Texas made it one step further this season before falling to the Huskies again.
Unlike that game which was basically over by the half, the Longhorns hung around with the Huskies on Monday night.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our basketball team,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “It’s a tough night for us, lots of seniors, lots of tears, lots of people that didn’t want it to end. It’s a significantly different looking team and different locker room than it was last year, we played our last game.”
They only trailed 30-25 with 7:21 left in the second quarter before Stewart started a 12-1 run that blew the game open. Freshman Naphessa Collier was big in the game-changing spurt, scoring five straight points. Her classmate Katie Lou Samuelson hit a 3-pointer to cap the burst.
The Huskies led by 15 at the half and extended the advantage to 21 early in the third quarter, but the Longhorns hit three straight 3s to come within 54-42. That’s as close as they would get as UConn scored 10 of the next 13 points to put the game away. The Huskies’ big three combined for all 10 points.
Stewart and Jefferson, who were first-team All-Americans, and second-teamer Tuck scored all but two of the Huskies’ points the rest of the way until they left to a loud ovation from the sellout crowd with 1:38 left in the game.
“It was me, Morgan and Moriah saying, all right, we have to do this, we have to take over, we have to take control,” Stewart said. “We’re the most experienced and we’re the ones that should do it.”
And they did.
Ariel Atkins and Lashann Higgs scored 19 points each to lead the Longhorns.