MINNEAPOLIS ( Associated Press) – The Paige Buyers scored 14 points and Yukon entered the national championship game on Friday night with a 63-58 win over defending champion Stanford.
The Huskies will face South Carolina for the national championships on Sunday night. In the first game of the last four, Gamecock defeated Louisville 72–59. Yukon and South Carolina met in November in the championship game of a tournament in the Bahamas, and Gamecock used a strong fourth quarter to win.
It is Yukon’s first visit to the championship game since 2016, when the Huskies won four consecutive championships. Since then, the team has suffered a heart-wrenching defeat in the national semi-finals, losing twice in overtime.
“We didn’t play our A-game on the offensive end, but we did what we needed to do when we had to,” said Yukon coach Geno Auriemma. “We grew up. I don’t know more than I can say about this group. To be honest with you, it’s pretty remarkable.”
UConn (30-5) is seeking its 12th national championship, and the Huskies have never lost an NCAA title game.
“We know that not everyone in the world thinks we’re going to win, so we’re like, we can prove everyone wrong and prove ourselves right. We’ve got another game, we’re going to win this. Not satisfied,” Buckers said. “We’re just trying to win a national championship and leave everything on the line and this is our last game of the season, so we have nothing left to offer.”
He had to work hard to reach the finals. Leading 52-44 with 1:26 remaining, Stanford mounted a furious rally thanks to some expensive UConn turnovers.
Cameron Brink’s lay with 18.4 seconds got the Cardinal to within 60-58. UConn was able to work seven seconds off the clock, before Christine Williams had 11 seconds left. The senior guard calmly swung both free throws to restore the two-capture lead.
Ashten Prechtel missed a hard-contested 3-pointer off the wing with just 5.4 seconds left and the Huskies won.
Haley Jones led the Cardinals (32-4) with 20 points.
This has been the most challenging year of Geno Auriemma’s Hall of Fame coaching career. Eight players have had to sit out at least two games this season with injury or illness, including Bucher, who missed nearly three months with a left knee injury in early December.
In the fourth quarter, the Buickers came to the fore when she was trying hard for a defensive rebound. She skipped the game for a few minutes, and every time she hit the floor, she looked at her knee.
It was the latest matchup on the biggest stage between Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer and Aurimma, who are both first and second on the all-time win list in women’s basketball. Their two teams met in the national semi-finals in Minneapolis 27 years ago, and the Husky won that as well. He won his first title that year.
The game started on a slow note as neither team could really get their shooting touch. UConn led 12-9 after a quarter and was up 27-26 by half. The teams scored 36% (23 for 64) in the opening 20 minutes. Stanford managed to keep it close by outscoring UConn 20-6 in the paint.
The low-scoring half was reminiscent of the 2010 title game when the teams played at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Cardinal carried that one to a 20-12 lead in the half. UConn won 53–47 – one of four wins for the Huskies over the Cardinals in the Final Four or Championship Round.
Lexi Hull had to leave the game a few times in the first half to deal with a bloody nose. She went into the first quarter after being fouled on a drive. Stanford couldn’t clean the blood off Hull, so Anna Wilson took two free throws for him. Hull later re-entered the game with a numbness in his left nostril, but had to leave again just before halfway when he was bleeding again. He played the entire second half without any further issues.
The game served as a homecoming for the Buyers, who grew up 10 miles from Minneapolis and had many friends and family in the game. She has played several times in high school in the state tournament at Target Center.
UConn Post Dorka Juhaz flew in to join his team two days after he had surgery on his left wrist that he fractured in the Husky’s double-OT win over NC State on Monday in the regional finals. Juhas sat on the bench covered in sweat, his arm in a sling.
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