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UConn advances to 11th straight Final Four

Aidan Joly

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ALBANY — Dynasties are a true part of sports. Perhaps the best known of them all, the UConn women’s basketball, continued theirs on Monday night as they advanced to the Final Four for the 11th straight year, beating South Carolina handily by a final score of 94-65.

The Huskies came out Monday as good as you can come out, making just about every shot and finding open ones throughout the whole first 20 minutes. They shot 19-28 in the first half, and the thing that stuck out the most was the fact that they shot 9-10 from behind the three-point mark.

“I think what happens is whenever you start shooting the ball well, it becomes contagious,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “While it lasted, I don’t know that anybody has an answer when you do something like that. That’s just too much to overcome.”

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Crystal Dangerfield was the one who really made the difference, scoring 19 points on the first half on 6-7 shooting and hit all five of her three-point attempts. She did cool down a lot in the second half and finished with 21, but her contributions still provided the biggest key to the victory for the Huskies. There has been a theme throughout the sophomore’s short career that she has her bigger games in high-pressure situations, and certainly that was the case Monday.

“It’s just a credit to my teammates. They were finding me when I was open, and I was able to knock those shots in, but it was just really wanting for my team. We wanted to get back to the Final Four,” Dangerfield said.

South Carolina did have a very solid first half as they shot 56 percent, which will usually provide a lead or at most, a small deficit at the break. However, this was not the case at all as they found themselves down 21 at intermission.

“I felt we, for the most part, stuck to our game plan,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “UConn makes you pay, you got to pick your poison.”

The Gamecocks were a two-player show for nearly all of the first half as A’ja Wilson and Alexis Jennings combined for 25 of their 33 first-half points. Wilson had 13 in the second half for a total of 27 but Jennings was slowed significantly coming out of the locker room, being held to four points in the second after 11 in the first. The defense of UConn and the fact that they did not slow down at all on offense allowed them to cruise to the victory.

Wilson was the Gamecocks’ leading scorer on the night, in addition to eight rebounds in her final collegiate game. It is widely believed that she will be the first overall pick in the WNBA draft, which will be held on April 12 in New York City. She goes out as one of the best players in program history.

“I just knew that coach Staley has done such a great job (with) this program, and I just knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely been a blessing to play underneath coach Staley and be coached by her. I’ve learned so much from her and just so much from my teammates over the course of my four years.”

With this win, UConn will advance to their 11th straight Final Four, which is a true sign of what an unstoppable dynasty that Auriemma has created.

“I don’t know that it’s one particular thing. We have a really good group, and we try to recruit certain kinds of kids,” Auriemma said. “To get consistently the results that we get, you have to have super competitive individuals. That’s something they have to learn when they come to Connecticut, that every day is a competition. Every day you’re competing, and that whenever you settle for just being okay, then all the sudden we’re not Connecticut anymore.”

The Huskies will play in the national semifinal game on Friday, taking on Notre Dame, and will try to avenge their heartbreaking national semifinal loss to Mississippi State last season. That game will take place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and will tip at 9 p.m.

Aidan Joly joined Upstate Courier Sports in February 2016 and became managing editor of the sports department in August 2017. He covers Section II athletics, the Siena men's basketball team and the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Aidan attends Saratoga Springs High School and will be attending Canisius College in the fall of 2018. Aidan can be contacted through social media (Twitter is @ByAidanJoly) or by email, joly@upstatecourier.com