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UConn heading back to Final Four

UConn heading back to Final Four

Huskies dominate defending national champion South Carolina 94-65 for the NCAA Albany Region championship
UConn heading back to Final Four
The UConn women's basketball team celebrates after beating South Carolina 94-65 for the NCAA East Region title
Photographer: RICH BARNES/USA TODAY SPORTS

ALBANY -- It was pure Crystal in the first half.

And that shattering sound you heard was defending national champion South Carolina's season crashing to the floor, and hard.

Connecticut point guard Crystal Dangerfield made all five of her 3-point attempts in the first half and scored 19 points as the Huskies built a 54-33 lead in the AlbanyRegional final before 9,522 at the Times Union Center on Monday night. UConn polished off South Carolina 94-65 to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

It's the Huskies 11th straight appearance in the Final Four.

That's where UConn's season -- and a 111-game winning streak -- ended last year, with a semifinal loss to Mississippi State, which subsequently was beaten by the Gamecocks for the national championship.

UConn dispatched South Carolina by 25 points during this regular season, and based on Monday's result, it's difficult to believe that anyone will be knocking off UConn (36-0) anytime soon.

Dangerfield, a 44.5 percent 3-point shooter coming into the game, finished with 21 points, and senior Gabby Williams scored 23 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field. She, Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier were a combined 22-for-38 (65.8 percent), and the Huskies were 37-for-63 (58.7).

Now, they'll go about preparation for the Notre Dame-Oregon winner in pursuit of the team's 12th national championship.

"Yeah, redemption  ... I don't think that's the word, but we definitely had something to prove not only to the rest of the world, but to ourselves, as well," Williams said.

"Somebody asked me at the beginning of the season, 'Hey, is there going to be a theme? Are you going to make T-shirts?'" UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. "I said 'Nah.' I've never  been ... that. There's no theme, there's no rallying cry that's going to reverberate through the entire season that will carry us back to the Final Four. I don't buy any of that stuff.

"These kids are pretty good at understanding when it's a big, big game. And they generally show up for big games. This year, every single one. That is what you need more than a slogan."

"We got beat by a really good UConn team," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "Obviously, we didn’t have enough to compete in the way that we would have liked to.

"But, now, all is well in women’s basketball."

UConn, which just missed hitting the 100-point mark for the ninth time this season, led 30-12 after the first quarter, when Dangerfield made two 3-pointers, including a deep one at the buzzer.

A little 6-0 run at the beginning of the second quarter got the Gamecocks (29-7) within 34-20, but that's as close as it got the rest of the way.

Dangerfield answered right back with a jumper, then made a 3 for a 39-22 lead and two more just before halftime to make it 52-31.

"Right before the game started, coach pulled me aside and told me to get back to what I was doing earlier in the year," Dangerfield said. "My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open."

Naturally, she bricked her first 3 attempt off the back iron to start the second half, but Williams went to work and scored eight points in the third quarter as the Huskies put the game away with a 76-47 lead.

"The reason we won by so much is our team played great, but even if we had not shot the ball as well as we did, the way those two played would've been enough to get us to next weekend," Auriemma said. "Just individual brilliance on their part. That's what you need at this point."

"You know what? UConn makes you pay," Staley said. "You’ve got to pick your poison. If you dig in too much to help in the paint, they’re going to kill you on the outside. If you overplay on the outside, they’re going to back-door you for wide-open layups."

"When a team is shooting well like that, it’s kind of hard to adjust," South Carolina's Alexis Jennings said. "You can try everything . . . but they were just hot.”

The players answered questions on Sunday about the regular-season game between UConn and South Carolina, and the Huskies' Katie Lou Samuelson said both teams had evolved and progressed to this point, so that result was irrelevant.

UConn certainly has changed. If anything, the Huskies are much better now, a scary prospect for the rest of this tournament.

"I don't think we expect anything as far as getting here," Williams said. "We look at the game ahead of us, and these kinds of things come. Like coach has said, we're not entitled to anything. We have to earn it."

"What happened last year, you can't take that back," Auriemma said. "Mississippi State deserved to win. South Carolina deserved to win the national championship.

"That's ancient history now."

SOUTH CAROLINA (65)

Wilson 11-18 5-8 27, Jennings 7-10 1-3 15, Cliney 2-5 0-0 5, Jackson 4-9 0-0 8, Harris 0-6 0-0 0, Patrick 0-0 0-0 0, Herbert 1-3 0-0 2, Williams 2-3 0-0 4, Grissett 1-2 2-2 4. Totals: 28-56 8-13 65.

CONNECTICUT (94)

Williams 11-16 1-1 23, Collier 7-11 2-2 16, Dangerfield 7-11 2-2 21, Nurse 4-7 0-0 11, Samuelson 5-10 3-3 17, Walker 1-3 0-0 2, Bent 0-0 0-0 0, Stevens 2-5 0-0 4, Irwin 0-0 0-0 0, Camara 0-0 0-0 0, Gordon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 37-63 8-8 94.

USC 12 21 14 18 -- 65

UConn 30 24 22 18 -- 94

Three-point goals: South Carolina 1-7 (Cliney 1-4, Jackson 0-1, Harris 0-1, Harrigan 0-1); Connecticut 12-20 (Collier 0-1, Dangerfield 5-7, Nurse 3-5, Samuelson 4-6, Walker 0-1). Rebounds: South Carolina 27 (Wilson 8); Connecticut 29 (Collier 7). Assists: South Carolina 10 (Jennings, Cliney, Jackson, Harris 2); Connecticut 25 (Samuelson 7). Total fouls: South Carolina 12; Connecticut 12. Attendance: 9,522.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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