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Women’s quarterfinals 2022 – UConn senior trio saves Huskies’ season, hopes for national championship

MINNEAPOLIS – With 11 seconds left and UConn chasing to take a two-point lead, senior keeper Christyn Williams stepped onto the free-throw line. The referee threw the ball to Williams, and the left-hander performed her customary dribble, bending her knees and dropping the ball toward the bucket. It went through the net. Same with the second one.

Fouls gave UConn a four-point lead and all but sealed a 63-58 victory for the Huskies, taking them to the national championship game for the first time since 2016. In four consecutive NCAA tournaments, UConn lost in the Finals. But on this fifth trip – the final for the seniors who have never competed in the national championship – Evina Westbrook, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Williams are determined not to lose.

“You can’t come here as a senior, and hope that someone wins it for you,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, with whom the Huskies will play South Carolina overall No. Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the NCAA Title.

Westbrook started the Huskies early, coming on from the bench in the second half to replace Aaliyah Edwards, who had just fouled his second.

When Dorka Juhasz broke his wrist, Westbrook was the next player to score in the game. After missing her first two shots, Westbrook spotted corner 3 and drilled it. She made three of four pointers in the first half when the Huskies took a one-point lead at the break.

“Somehow, somehow, when she gets into the big games, she finds a way to take out two or three of them,” Auriemma said. “And that happens whenever we need (her). I would say she’s probably the most valuable player in the game (Friday).”

If Westbrook impresses in the second half, then Nelson-Ododa and Williams will shoulder that burden in the fourth – when they return to the court. They spent the final few minutes of the third half on the bench.

“I think they start to feel like, ‘That’s it. I’ll never go back,” Auriemma said. “And when they come back, it’s like everyone else.”

Nelson-Ododa started the half with old-fashioned three-pointers and added two free throws. In UConn’s next possession, Williams hit a 3-pointer to extend the Huskies’ lead to six points. She struggled to attack for most of the game, and ended up with only three 3 for 13 goals from the field, but that shot sent the Huskies flying and gaining momentum.

“It’s the last year,” said second-year guard Nika Muhl. “They just want to win and we’re there to watch them.”

This senior class, along with the entire UConn team, have played through all odds for most of the season. Five regular-season losses is the most for the show since the 2004-05 season. The Huskies’ loss to Villanova was the show’s first convention loss since 2013. And the Georgia Tech loss — the first after sophomore guard Paige Bueckers suffered a fractured tibial plateau and torn meniscus — was lost UConn’s record of 239 wins. against unappreciated opponents.

Auriemma did not shy away from challenging her upperclassmen.

After UConn lost to Georgia Tech, a depressed Auriemma attended the press conference and delivered a damning assessment of the Huskies’ condition.

“Over the years, I’ve usually been pretty good at making the players better,” Auriemma said. “We have really good players coming out of high school, but they’re getting better and better every year. And right now, that’s not happening.”

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UConn’s Paige Bueckers lost to Olivia Nelson-Ododa for a hard shove plus a foul.

This class led to injuries and illnesses that affected UConn throughout the year. In addition to Bueckers’ knee injury, Muhl and freshman Azzi Fudd are both absent with leg injuries. Freshmen Caroline Ducharme, Nelson-Ododa and Williams also all missed games. And Juhasz was lost to injury on Monday.

As UConn entered the title match, a scene in which Auriemma holds an 11-0 record, those troubles grew further and further. If the senior class has anything to say about that, they have juice available to deal with when it matters most.

“They did exactly what I expected them to do nightly,” Auriemma said. “Hopefully they have one more night in there.”

https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/33648646/women-final-four-2022-uconn-senior-trio-saves-huskies-season-national-title-hopes Women’s quarterfinals 2022 – UConn senior trio saves Huskies’ season, hopes for national championship

Luke Plunkett

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