Posted March 27, 2012 on
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Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and top-seed Connecticut beat Kentucky 80-65 on Tuesday night to advance to the Final Four for the fifth straight season.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn (33-4), which will play the winner of Notre Dame and Maryland on Sunday in Denver. The Huskies matched their own school mark of five straight trips to the national semifinals. LSU and Stanford have also accomplished the feat.
Unlike their previous four trips to the regional finals, which were quick blowouts, the Huskies had to work hard to pull away from the Wildcats.
UConn led 48-47 early in the second half before turning up its defense. The Huskies used a 21-4 spurt to take command. Hayes, the lone senior on the team, was the catalyst, scoring seven points during the run. She got it started with a lay-in. Then the Huskies started a parade to the free throw line, with whistle after whistle. The Huskies converted 12 free throws during the game-changing run.
Hayes was selected most outstanding player of the regional.
While the Huskies were scoring points, their vaunted defense was stymieing the Wildcats. Kentucky torched UConn for 39 points, the most allowed in a first half this season by the Huskies.
The Wildcats found it much tougher to score in the second half. During UConn's burst, Kentucky could only get two field goals over a span of 9 minutes.
Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-pointer with 7:26 left capped UConn's burst and made it 69-52.
Kentucky (28-7) could get no closer than 15 the rest of the way.
Samarie Walker scored 14 to lead the Wildcats.
It's been a strange season for UConn. Coming into the year, coach Geno Auriemma didn't think this team could make a run at the Final Four or an eighth national championship. With the loss of Maya Moore to graduation, the Huskies had a lot of questions about themselves.
Despite running through the early part of their schedule, Auriemma knew it was just a matter of time before the team's shortcomings were exposed. Losses to Baylor and Notre Dame on the road were understandable, but it wasn't until the end of February that UConn really came to a crossroads.
The Huskies lost to St. John's at home on senior night snapping a 99-game home winning streak. Nine days later the Huskies fell to Notre Dame. Those two defeats got the Huskies refocused and they've been unstoppable ever since. The Huskies cruised to the Big East tournament championship and rolled through their first three NCAA tournament games.
Now the Huskies are back in the Final Four for the 13th time in the last 18 years.
The Kentucky women were trying to join their men's team in the Final Four. It would have been the eighth time that a school had both programs in the national semifinals. Connecticut has done it three times including last season. The Huskies are still the only school to win both the men's and women's championship in the same season accomplishing the feat in 2004.
It's the second time in three seasons that the Wildcats had reached the regional finals. They lost to Oklahoma two seasons ago. Still Kentucky is headed in the right direction. The Wildcats won their first regular season SEC championship since 1982 and tied the school record for victories in a season.
Coach Matthew Mitchell will have most of his team back for next season. The Wildcats' coach before the year started put the Denver Final Four logo in front of the locker room as motivation for his squad. Now they can look toward next season and making it to New Orleans.
UConn raced out to a 9-0 lead and looked poised for another to blowout. A quick timeout by Mitchell settled his team down and the Wildcats rallied back to close within 23-21 on two free throws by Bria Goss. A jumper by Stefanie Dolson and 3-pointer by Hayes gave the Huskies a 28-21 advantage with 8:19 left.
Kentucky was unfazed. The Wildcats, who were constantly subbing fresh players in, then went on a 12-2 run over the next three minutes as fouls started piling up on the Huskies. A layup by Goss and two free throws by Keyla Snowden gave the Wildcats a 33-30 advantage with 5:01 left.
The teams exchanged baskets and free throws the rest of the half. The two schools combined to take 27 foul shots in the first half with the Wildcats making all 14 of their attempts.
Mathies' two free throws with 2.1 seconds left tied the game at 39 before Kelly Faris caught the ensuing inbounds pass at halfcourt and beat the halftime buzzer for a lay-in to make it 41-39 at the break.
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