The streak is still alive.
But only just.
In a thrilling double-overtime affair, the UConn women’s basketball team squeaked past North Carolina State, 91-87, on Monday night to earn yet another trip to the Final Four. It will be the Huskies’ 14th consecutive appearance in the national semifinals – a staggering run of dominance that has also featured six championships.
UConn will face Stanford in Minneapolis on Friday.
Sophomore guard Paige Bueckers once again played a starring role, scoring 23 of her game-high 27 points after halftime – including 10 in the pivotal first overtime period.
Christyn Williams and Azzi Fudd added 21 and 19, respectively, for the Huskies, while Jakia Brown-Turner paced the Wolfpack with 20 points in one of the most dramatic games of the tournament to date.
“I wish we [NC State coach Wes Moore] both could go. It’s just been that kind of a year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a televised interview after the game.
“They had the game won in regulation, probably. And they made us work for it. Thank god Paige came back. She gives everybody so much confidence. It was an amazing game, a great showcase for our sport.”
In a game with 13 lead changes, there was little to separate NC State and UConn, which played the second half without senior center Dorka Juhász after she suffered an injury to her left arm. The Wolfpack tied the score on a layup by Elissa Cunane with a little more than a minute left. Then five missed shots in the final 60 seconds, including two at the free-throw line, sent the game to overtime – where Bueckers quickly took over.
The sophomore scored 10 points in the first overtime period, including six free throws, as UConn slowly built a slim lead, even as the Wolfpack repeatedly answered.
After Fudd and Bueckers each made a pair of free throws, the Huskies had a three-point cushion with six seconds left. It seemed all but over. Then Brown-Turner drained a 3-pointer to send the game to a second OT – and maintain the Wolfpack’s dreams of reaching its first Final Four since 1998.
In double overtime, Bueckers hit a three and a jumper on consecutive possessions to once again put UConn ahead – but NC State once again fought back.
It ultimately came down to an inbound play with fewer than 10 seconds remaining, as UConn funneled the ball to Williams for a layup that expanded the Huskies’ lead to four points – effectively putting the game on ice, and keeping UConn’s spectacular streak alive.
This trip to the Final Four will be a particularly memorable one for Bueckers, who missed two months this season with a knee injury but will now get to experience a homecoming of sorts. The Hopkins, Minnesota, native grew up a few miles from the site of the Final Four.