BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut ( Associated Press) – Paige Bueckers scored 15 of her 27 points in the two overtime games, and UConn beat North Carolina State 91-87 to extend the Huskies’ record women’s Final Four series to 14 straight Monday night.
The Huskies, who were 0-out-5 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, will face leading-seeded Stanford in the national semifinals in Minneapolis on Friday night.
Bueckers, who grew up 10 miles off the grounds of the Final Four, scored the first five points in the second overtime to lift the Huskies (29-5).
“Two days ago I said, ‘Win or go home,’ but we won and I’m still going home,” Bueckers said. “This is crazy. I’m just so excited, no matter the location, no matter where it is.”
The sensational second-year student, who missed two months this season with a knee injury, once again looked like the player who was the Associated Press player of the year in 2021. She was named the most outstanding player in the Bridgeport region.
“Thank God, Paige came back because she gives everyone so much confidence and then everyone just played kind of play and everyone took turns,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was just an amazing basketball game and it was a great showcase for our sport.”
With NC State within 86-84 in the second OT, Christyn Williams hit the second of two free throws and then a run-in with 21 seconds left to give UConn an 89-85 lead.
Jakia Brown-Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds in the first overtime to level the game, then made an attempt to get the Wolfpack inside two, but Williams had a layout from the inside switched down to ensure victory.
UConn lost senior center Dorka Juhasz earlier in the game due to a forearm injury.
“This team has been through so much and it has only made us stronger,” said Bueckers. “And if we see one of our sisters go down, we will do it for her. We all love each other, we are all so close to each other. It just shows what we’ve been through all year. Lots of adversity, highs and lows, up and down. We stayed calm and stayed together. “
Brown-Turner finished with 20 points for NC State (32-4).
Both teams had chances to win in the last 30 seconds of regulation. UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa was overwhelmed with 28 seconds left and missed both free throws. On subsequent ball possession, Diamond Johnson dribbled down the clock and drove before returning to Kai Crutchfield, who was far away on a deep 3-pointer from the wing.
NC State tried for the second time in school history to reach the national semifinals. The Wolfpack made it this far in 1998 and beat the Huskies in the Elite Eight that season to progress. None of the current roster was still alive at the time.
Crutchfield, Raina Perez and Kayla Jones all returned this year with their extra COVID-19 season granted by the NCAA to try and lift the Wolfpack to new heights. They succeeded and progressed further than the team had in 24 years.
The Huskies have handled injuries and COVID-19 issues all season and have had their most losses since 2012, including their first conference defeat in nine years and their first defeat against an unranked team since 2012.
Things have seemed right for UConn since the team started getting healthy, starting with Bueckers.
It was the first double-OT match in the history of women’s NCAA tournament in the regional finals or later.
UConn suffered a major blow when Juhasz went down just above her left wrist with a terrifying injury in the first half. She was violated with a kickback attempt and ended up uncomfortable as she tried to put her hands down to support her fall.
Juhasz was on the floor in tears and was helped back to the locker room by her team with seven points. The Huskies extended the advantage to 10 before NC State reduced it by half to 34-28.
She returned to the bench at the beginning of the fourth quarter, dressed in warm-ups with her arm in a sling.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
UConn: Beat Mercer in the opening round, UCF in the second round and Indiana in the Sweet 16.
NC State: Longwood in the first round, Kansas State in the second round and Notre Dame in the regional semifinals.
UNTIL WE SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN
It was the first meeting between the schools since the 2006-’07 season. They are scheduled to play the next two seasons.
“I agreed to a series with UConn starting next year,” said NC State coach Wes Moore. “If they come here next year, then they will come to us next year”
More Associated Press coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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