This didn’t go according to plan, necessarily. To chalk.
But for thousands of fans among the announced sellout of 18,268 who cheered Paige Buckers’ every move, it went like a Hollywood script.
Scoring just enough and playing what at times was bone-rattling defense, Connecticut advanced to Sunday’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship with a 63-58 Victory over Stanford, which saw its 24-game winning streak – and quest for consecutive titles – ended in a flurry of missed shots.
Instead it will be Connecticut (30-5) that will play South Carolina on Sunday night looking for its 12th title overall and first since 2016.
“We got the other day that points are hard to come by in this tournament,” UConn Coach Geno Auriemma said. “And today was certainly no different.”
BOXSCORE: UConn 63, Stanford 58
Nobody on this Connecticut team has played in a title game; the huskies had fallen short in the semifinals every year since winning their 11th title back in 2016.
Not this time. “This is a really hard game to win,” Auriemma said. “Stanford is the Defending Champion. We didn’t play our ‘A’ game on the offensive end. But the things we needed to do when we had to do ’em, we came up big.”
Who would have thought Stanford (32-4) would make just 23 of 66 shots (34.8%), hit just four of 23 Threes and score just 58 points?
Who would have thought that when the game turned on, that the best post player on the floor would be UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa?
But she was.
Connecticut held a slim 39-37 lead Entering the fourth quarter.
That changed. Nelson-Ododa scored, was fouled and made the free throw to open the quarter. The next time down Christyn Williams hit a three-pointer. After getting a stop, Nelson-Ododa was fouled and made two free throws just 2½ minutes into the quarter and suddenly UConn was up eight points.
Auriemma Suggested there was a higher power at work, given both free throws lacked, shall we say, much arc. “When Liv made that three-point play, you could see her whole body language, everything changed for her,” he said. “It gave our players confidence.”
And Stanford just couldn’t pattern the offense to complete a comeback.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We really struggled running our offense. I think there were some self-inflicted wounds in some of the things we were doing out there.”
Down eight with 1:26 left, the Cardinal mounted a comeback, drawing within two twice, the second time on Cameron Brink’s layup with 18 seconds left. But Azzi Fudd hit two free throws in the first time, Williams two more with 11 seconds left.
Evina Westbrook scored 12 points for Connecticut, and Williams 10. Nelson-Ododa finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
“We knew it was going to be a tough one,” Westbrook said. “Stanford is a great team. But we knew what we needed to do to win this game, and I think our defense was our biggest emphasis.”
Haley Jones scored 20 points with 10 rebounds for Stanford and Brink had 15 and seven. But the rest of the Cardinal lineup struggled. Lexie Hull, guarded often by Bueckers, sustained a Bloody nose early and finished with four points.
“I think we could have moved the ball better, have cut better, screened better,” Jones said. “We left a lot out there unsaid.”
Connecticut? There have been years when UConn was the top seed, when it was expected to win.
This time? Maybe the Huskies weren’t the best team. Maybe, this time, they’d need some help. “We [needed] Stanford to not play their best game, “they said.” Or for them to miss shots they normally make. Yes, this was completely different. “