Updated: Apr 3, 2022
In what was an instant classic on Monday night when the No.2 seed UConn Huskies defeated the No.1 seed NC State Wolfpack in a 91-87 double-overtime victory for the ages in the Bridgeport Regional Final. This marked the first double-overtime game in the Elite Eight or later in the history of the women’s tournament. The game featured nine ties and 13 lead changes.
Super sophomore Paige Bueckers, despite missing 19 games this season due to a knee injury, showed exactly why the WNBA is eagerly waiting for her arrival, as she poured in 27 points on 10-of-15 from the field, including six of seven from the foul line, six rebounds, and a block. Fifteen of her 27 points came in the crucial moments in overtime as the Wolfpack had no answer for Bueckers who was getting her shot wherever she pleased.
She wasn’t without help, as senior guard,Christyn Williams (21 points), freshman guard, Azzi Fudd (19 points), and sophomore forward Aaliyah Edwards (10 points) each had double figures in the scoring column, and all three amassing 40 or more minutes in the game along with Bueckers.
UConn sophomore forward, Olivia Nelson-Ododa was also impactful for the Huskies with six points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Both teams shot well from the field (48%), but both struggled from beyond the arc, with the Huskies shooting 5-of-23 (23%), and the Wolfpack 7-of-23 (30%).
Wolfpack senior forward Jakia Brown-Turner was the leading scorer with 20 points, while also doing it all for her team, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing five assists, a steal, and blocking two shots in 48 minutes of action. Other players in double figures for the Wolfpack were senior center Elissa Cunane (18 points), senior forward Kayla Jones (12 points), and senior guard Kai Crutchfield (12 points).
The Huskies led for the majority of the game, with the lead being as much as 10 in the second quarter. The Wolfpack rallied back in the second half, showing why they were ranked a No.1 seed. NC State would regain the lead off a Jones layup early in the fourth quarter, pulling ahead the Huskies by as many as four points.
Nelson-Ododa missed both of what would have been the go-ahead free throws with 28 seconds left remaining and the score tied at 61 a piece. Crutchfield then had a chance for a 3 to win the game but came up short as regulation came to an end.
In the first overtime Bueckers would get her mojo going, helping the Huskies take a three point lead with 6.2 seconds remaining and a chance for a trip to the Final Four in the balance. However, Brown-Turner said not so fast, as she cashed a crucial corner 3 with less than a second remaining in overtime to force a second one.
UConn then outscored NC State 14-10 in the second overtime, with Williams scoring the Huskies' final five points, including the win-sealing layup that punched their ticket to Minneapolis as the Wolfpack struggled to get stops in the second overtime as fatigue started to set in. The Huskies executed their offense beautifully and both teams played their hearts out to the very last second.
After a legendary game for the ages, UConn coach Geno Auriemma stated his thoughts of the game when he stated "It's one of the best games I've ever been a part of since I've been at UConn, it was just amazing the way the 10 kids that are on the court are playing for their lives. Nobody wants to lose, and everybody is making big play after big play, and nobody backed down from the moment. It's a shame one of us had to lose, right? It would be great if both of us could go."
Bueckers, who showed why she was the National Player of the Year last season earned high praise from her teammate Williams on their confidence of winning due to having a transcendent talent such as her on the team when she says "Literally I was thinking, 'We have Paige Bueckers and they don't, once she makes one, the rim is like this big. She's just going to keep making them. So just keep giving her the ball."
Auriemma added on to Williams statements about Bueckers by stating, "Paige is different, those players, if they were commonplace, we would know exactly who they are and we'd be able to rattle them off, but they're not. They're few and far in between, and she was made for these moments."
Bueckers is still not 100% healthy, but if she gets the help from her teammates for No.1 Stanford, who they’ll play at 9:30 p.m. Et on Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, then Stanford better look out.
This will be the 14th consecutive Final Four appearance for the UConn Huskies, and the 22nd in the Auriemma era. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack fell just short of their first Final Four appearance since 1998, ending their season with a 32-4 record, and first Elite Eight berth since that same year.
The Huskies now will have their hands full against the No.1 seed Stanford Cardinals who average 73.9 points per game, which is 19.3 more than what UConn allows (54.6) according to https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/preview?gameId=401414527 . The Cardinals are 32-2 whenever they score 55 or more points led by their leading scorer in sophomore guard Cameron Brink (13.4 PPG), and leading rebounder at 8.1 per game.
Will UConn be able to stop the offensive juggernaut that is the Stanford Cardinals and execute their offense to advance to the National Championship against the winner of either Louisville or South Carolina? Or will they go home in disappointing defeat?
If the Elite Eight is a preview of what’s to come, we are sure of a fantastic Final Four.