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Hayes leads UConn women back to Final Four
KINGSTON, R.I. (AP) - The chalkboard in the UConn locker room after the Huskies’ victory over Kentucky had two words written across it: Final Four.
Even though that destination is expected every year for Geno Auriemma’s teams, this season felt different.
Before it started, Auriemma figured his team wouldn’t be good enough to make it to the Final Four. But a funny thing happened along the way: His starless team jelled and now UConn is back in the national semifinals for a fifth straight season.
“We like to go to the Final Four every year,” Auriemma said. “I think we’re also realistic, some years it’s going to be easier than others. Expectations are always there, regardless of the probability. This year was less than other years. Makes it more worthwhile. Last year we went as a team led by Maya Moore. This year there isn’t any of that. The University of Connecticut is going to the Final Four and I think that’s pretty cool once in a while.”
Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and top-seed Connecticut beat Kentucky 80-65 Tuesday night in the Kingston regional final.
“We’re not a team with superstars, we didn’t have any preseason All-Americans, so no one really expected us to be as dominant as we have been this year,” said UConn guard Bria Hartley.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn (33-4), which will play Notre Dame on Sunday in Denver.
Hayes, who was selected most outstanding player of the regional, has been to a Final Four in all four of her seasons. Getting there this time was special to the senior.
“It’s even sweeter because this is a team effort, it wasn’t one or two people getting us there,” she said. “We all had our part in it. Everyone had their way of helping us get there. Glad to be back for the fourth time.”
Unlike their previous four trips to the regional finals, which were quick blowouts, the Huskies had to work to pull away from the Wildcats.
UConn led 48-47 early in the second half before turning up its defense and taking command with a 21-5 spurt. Hayes, the lone senior on the team, was the catalyst, scoring seven points during the run. She got it started with a lay-in. Then the Huskies started a parade to the free throw line, with whistle after whistle. The Huskies converted 12 free throws during the game-changing run.
While the Huskies were scoring points, their vaunted defense was stymieing the Wildcats, who torched UConn for 39 points before the break, the most the Huskies have allowed in the first half this season.
The Wildcats found it much tougher to score in the second half. During UConn’s burst, Kentucky could only get two field goals over a span of 9 minutes.
Mosqueda-Lewis‘ 3-pointer with 7:26 left capped UConn’s burst and made it 69-52.
By David A. Clarke Jr.
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