UConn will once again play for a national championship after outlasting the defending NCAA champion Stanford in the Final Four on Friday night, 63-58. This will be the first title game since 2016 for UConn, which has a record 11 national championships and is undefeated in championship games.
Hopefully Sunday's game will be more exciting than this one, which was not exactly an instant classic. UConn and Stanford combined for just 21 points in the first quarter, which set the tone for the rest of the game. Neither team was able to build any sort of significant lead because neither team could put the ball in the basket.
When UConn briefly went up by eight in the fourth quarter it seemed insurmountable, and in the end it was -- barely. The Huskies made a number bad turnovers in the final few minutes, but hit enough free throws to survive the Cardinal's last-gasp comeback attempt.
Paige Bueckers led UConn with 14 points, four rebounds and five assists, while Evina Westbrook chipped in 12 crucial points off the bench. Haley Jones (20 points) and Cameron Brink (15) were the only players to score in double figures for Stanford and combined for more than half the team's points.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
UConn plays the best defense
In the lead-up to the Final Four, UConn's senior guard, Christyn Williams, told reporters, "I think whoever plays the best defense [Friday] is going to win the game, if I'm being completely honest." While both teams brought it on that end of the floor, the Huskies were a bit better, and as a result they were the team that won the game.
With Williams helping lead the way, UConn held Stanford to one of its worst offensive games all season. The Cardinal scored under 60 points for just the fifth time, shot 34.8 percent from the field and 17.4 percent from 3-point land and turned the ball over 11 times. Most notably, Lexie Hull, who was the tournament's leading scorer coming in at 22 points per game, finished with four points on 2-of-12 shooting.
If you look at the game flow graphic, which charts each team's points over the course of the game, you quickly notice multiple times where Stanford's line on the graph just went flat. There were multiple stretches where they looked completely lost on offense and failed to score for two or three minutes at a time. Here's a perfect example from the third quarter, where UConn nearly forces a turnover, and Stanford never even gets the ball inside the 3-point arc before hoisting a bad shot.
UConn has leaned on its defense all season long, especially with injuries to the likes of Paige Bueckers, and it came through again in a major way on Friday night. If the Huskies hope to win it all on Sunday, they're going to need another brilliant effort on that side of the ball.
UConn's chance for more history
UConn is, without a doubt, the most storied program in the history of women's college basketball. The school has the record for the longest winning streak of all time (111 games), has been to the NCAA Tournament every single season since 1989, has made 28 straight Sweet 16s and 14 straight Final Fours and has a record 11 national championships.
Such is their history of success that no titles or championship game appearances since 2016 was considered a major drought. Now, though, the UConn fans' long nightmare is over. The team is back in the title game and will have a chance to create even more history.
Here's just a quick glance at what is on the line:
- A record 12th national championship.
- Maintaining the team's perfect record in championship games. (So far the Huskies are 11-0 in title game appearances.)
- Becoming just the fourth team in NCAA Tournament history to beat three No. 1 seeds in a single tournament.
To get it done, though, UConn is going to have to beat a South Carolina team that has been dominant all season long and boasts Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston. When the two teams met earlier in the season, the Gamecocks made rather easy work of the Huskies, securing a 73-57 win in the Battle 4 Atlantis.