Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
UConn into 6th straight semifinal
Connecticut is headed back to a familiar place -- the Final Four.
Breanna Stewart scored 21 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 17 to help top-seed UConn rout Kentucky 83-53 on Monday night and advance to a record sixth-straight national semifinal.
The Huskies will face either Notre Dame or Duke in the national semifinals on Sunday in New Orleans. The Irish and Blue Devils play tonight. UConn (33-4) broke a tie with Stanford (2008-12), LSU (2004-08) and itself (2000-04) by reaching the Final Four again.
It was the second straight season that UConn beat Kentucky in the regional finals. The Huskies topped the Wildcats by 15 last year 105 miles to the north of Bridgeport in Kingston, R.I.
This game wasn't as close. Kentucky stayed close for the first 10 minutes with their "40 minutes of dread" defense. Then UConn turned up its own defensive intensity.
The Huskies trailed 23-22 with just 9 minutes left in the first half. That's when Stewart -- honored as the outstanding player of the Bridgeport Regional -- and UConn's "no-name" defense took over allowing three points the rest of the half.
"We're either right on point, we do everything right or we get a little bit off kilter and lose our composure a little bit," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Once we got into our rhythm and our tempo, we just played good basketball."
Kentucky missed 13 of its final 14 shots in the half with the only make coming when Jelleah Sidney banked in a 3-pointer from the wing.
While UConn was playing lockdown defense, Stewart was dominating on the offensive end. The 6-foot-4 star, who was the national high school player of the year last season, scored nine points and had a vicious two-handed block during that closing run.
After Sidney's 3-pointer, Stewart calmly converted a three-point play on the other end. UConn led 48-26 at the half.
Kentucky couldn't get within 20 in the second half.
The loudest cheer of the night from the sellout crowd of nearly 8,600 came when the video board showed highlights of Louisville's upset victory over Baylor on Sunday night.
UConn's only losses this season came to Baylor and three times to Notre Dame.
Stewart didn't play well in most of those losses, but really has stepped her game up over the past few weeks. After struggling through the middle part of the season, the heralded first-year has averaged 16.4 points since the start of the Big East tournament.
It's been an unusual season for UConn, which for the first time in 19 years didn't win either the Big East regular season or tournament title. Now the Huskies are two wins away from an eighth national championship.
This was the 19th time in the past 23 seasons that UConn had reached the regional final. They have made the Final Four 14 times overall, including the last six.
"I don't know more things in sports that are more impressive," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell of UConn's streak.
California 65, Georgia 62 (OT): Layshia Clarendon was the first to get her hands on the regional championship trophy. Rightfully so, after getting California somewhere they've never gone before: the Final Four.
Clarendon scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half and overtime, and California rallied from down 10 with less than 7 minutes left to beat Georgia in the Spokane Regional final and advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Clarendon and the second-seeded Golden Bears became the first team from the western U.S. other than Stanford to reach the Final Four since Long Beach State in 1988. They did it with a gritty rally down the stretch and big shots by Clarendon, Afure Jemerigbe and Talia Caldwell.
During that 25-year span, eight different programs in the West have reached the regional finals. But whether it was Long Beach State, Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Utah, Arizona State or Gonzaga, they all came up one game short -- sometimes at the hands of Stanford -- from getting to the Final Four.
California, and second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb, finally broke the string. Gottlieb threw her arms in the air when Shacobia Barbee's desperation half-court shot at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and wore a huge grin throughout the postgame celebration.
Jemerigbe finished with 14 and Caldwell added 10, with six coming in the final 3:30 of regulation and in overtime.
California (32-3) was the selection of President Obama when he filled out his NCAA women's tournament bracket. The Golden Bears proved him right.
Barbee led Georgia (28-7) with 14 points.