UConn Puts The Hammer Down, Earns Sixth Straight Trip To Final Four

UConn's Stefanie Dolson hugs teammate Caroline Doty as the Huskies celebrate winning the Bridgeport Regional. (Cloe Poisson)

What's basketball without hope that the stars might align to make it possible for the virtually impossible to occur?

They did in Oklahoma City on Sunday night when Louisville, almost a 30-point underdog, dethroned defending national champion Baylor with 40 minutes of force and focused shooting.

On Monday, Kentucky hoped to wish upon the same constellation in the Bridgeport Regional final at the Webster Bank Arena.

And the stars did come out. Just not for the Wildcats.

Behind freshman Breanna Stewart, who scored 21 points, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who added 17, UConn rolled easily into a record sixth straight Final Four with a resounding 83-53 win over the Wildcats.

"I don't know what I can say in behalf of my players and how hard they have worked in the last month," Geno Auriemma said.

Stewart was named the Bridgeport Regional's Most Outstanding Player. She was joined on the tournament team by Kelly Faris, Mosqueda-Lewis, Kentucky's Jennifer O'Neill and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne.

"The awards don't matter as long as we win," said Stewart, who was 8 of 14. "I'm just happy to help the team right now."

The Huskies (33-4) also had 12 points from Faris. Moriah Jefferson and Bria Hartley scored 10 each for the Huskies, who will be playing in their 14th Final Four since 1991.

"We met our obligation," Auriemma said, smiling. They also outscored the Wildcats 50-20 in the paint and won the rebounding battle, 41-33.

This was the second straight year UConn ended Kentucky's Final Four dream in the Elite Eight. Last year it was in Kingston, R.I. This time it came before a boisterous sellout about 90 miles south of UConn's campus.

"It never gets old," Faris said about going to the Final Four in each of her four years. "Each year is different and special for the seniors. This is it for us, our last go-around. And we want to go out with a bang. We're not satisfied until the final game."

A'dia Mathies ended her college career by leading Kentucky (30-6) with 14 points

And now, on Sunday, the Huskies' pursuit of an eighth national championship continues in the national semifinals against either Notre Dame or Duke, who play Tuesday in the Elite Eight.

UConn beat Duke by 30 on Jan. 21 at Gampel Pavilion. Notre Dame, well, you've likely seen that movie by now. UConn has lost seven of eight against the Irish, including all three games this season and the past two national semifinal games.

But that's an issue for another day, one that would have no immediate relevance had the Huskies not played with so much flair Monday.

It was easy to tell when the character of this game changed. It was right after Kentucky scored to give it a 23-22 lead with 9:08 to play in the first half.

To put it in a way Kentucky can relate: It was "30 Minutes of Dread" — a slight variation of its team slogan of "40 Minutes of Dread."

"We were shooting a lot of jumpers and they caught us on rebounding and they scored in transition," Mathies said. "We weren't getting back. We weren't matching up on defense. They made a lot of layups and got a big lead."

That basket was the culmination of an entertaining and athletic opening act that began with Jennifer O'Neill's opening three to give Kentucky a 3-0 lead. The Wildcats were in it to win it.