– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
ALBANY, NY — On Monday night, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team turned one of the hardest days each season for head coach Geno Auriemma into life on easy street for 40 minutes.
All five starters for the Huskies scored in double figures during the regional final as Connecticut advanced to its 11th consecutive Final Four appearance with a 94-65 victory over No. 2 seed and defending national champion South Carolina. This came two days after UConn defeated Duke 72-59 in the regional semifinals last Saturday.
Heading to the Elite Eight has become a foregone conclusion each season for Connecticut, but that does not mean that taking the next step to the Final Four, which they have successfully navigated for over a decade, is any easier, even with their continued success.
“Well, I’ve always said, today is the hardest day; in all of the games that you play, today is probably the hardest,” said Auriemma after the win against the Gamecocks. “The next hardest is the one you play on Friday night. To get back to Final Four, I mean, every team starts their season and says, that’s our goal, to go to the Final Four. So for us, it’s an opportunity to go back to where we felt like we didn’t really give our best effort.”
Last season’s stunning loss by Connecticut to Mississippi State in the national semifinals allowed the Bulldogs, as well as South Carolina, to play on Championship Friday, but the Huskies made sure the Gamecocks would not repeat this season. Forward Gabby Williams led all UConn scorers with 23 points and five assists, while guard Crystal Dangerfield hit five three-pointers on her way to 21 points.
In her final game in a collegiate uniform, South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson led all scorers with 27 points. Wilson was named a four-time All-SEC First Team selection and three-time SEC Player of the Year.
“I think that’s what makes it a lot of fun is it’s been a journey,” said Wilson. “I’ve been through the ups and downs of everything. I’ve had a blessing to just compete in the NCAA, and make it to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and two Final Fours and National Champions. There’s a bunch of girls out there that dream to do that, and I was part of it with a South Carolina team that no one believed we could do any of it, at all. We were the underdogs. So just to be part of something and show people that it can be done, it’s been a blessing.”
As always, our senior photographer, Robert Cole, was snapping away and taking amazing photos from courtside at the Times Union Center in New York’s state capital. There are currently 31 photos in this gallery, involving both Sweet 16 games (Connecticut-Duke, South Carolina-University at Buffalo). Keep refreshing the page for the latest photos.