Samuelson leads UConn to 12th straight Final Four

  • Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier (24), guard Crystal Dangerfield, center, and guard Katie Lou Samuelson (33) celebrate after defeating Louisville in a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier (24), guard Crystal Dangerfield (5) and guard Katie Lou Samuelson (33) celebrate at the end of a regional championship final against Louisville in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut guard Katie Lou Samuelson (33) reacts after hitting a three-point basket while being fouled Louisville forward Sam Fuehring (3) during the second half of a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier (24) tries a long pass as Louisville forward Sam Fuehring (3) defends against her during the first half of a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut players celebrate after defeating Louisville in a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Louisville forward Sam Fuehring (3) fouls Connecticut guard Katie Lou Samuelson (33) as Samuelson shoots a three-point basket during the second half of a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut guard Christyn Williams, right, embraces guard Katie Lou Samuelson (33) after they defeated Louisville during a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Connecticut players pose for photos with the trophy after defeating Louisville in a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • From left to right, Connecticut guard Katie Lou Samuelson, Molly Bent, forward Napheesa Collier, center, and guard Christyn Williams (13) celebrate with the trophy after defeating Louisville in a regional championship final in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) Kathy Willens

  • Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu celebrates a regional final victory over Mississippi State in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Portland, Ore. Oregon defeated Mississippi State 88-84. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola) STEVE DIPAOLA

  • Oregon players celebrate a regional final victory over Mississippi State in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola) STEVE DIPAOLA

Associated Press
Published: 3/31/2019 4:09:32 PM

ALBANY, N.Y. – Katie Lou Samuelson put UConn on her injured back and shot the Huskies into a record 12th straight Final Four.

Samuelson scored 29 points and second-seeded UConn held off No. 1 Louisville, 80-73, on Sunday in the Albany Regional Final.

“She made some shots today that only really special players make at this particular time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “This is when players separate themselves in these games.”

The Huskies (35-2) have won six national championships and had a 111-game winning streak during their remarkable Final Four run. They will be looking to try and reach the title game for the first time in three years after they have lost on last-second shots in the past two national semifinals.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to happen,” Auriemma said of the incredible run. “Not in today’s world the way things change and teams keep getting better and better. It’s not normal. It’s something that’s hard to describe because even if you’re writing a book and making it up, people would say it doesn’t happen in real life. It has happened in real life, I’m still boggled, my mind doesn’t get how it can happen this many years in a row with a different cast of characters that change so often. No it’s not normal, it’s not normal.”

Samuelson hit seven of the team’s 14 3-pointers, including many big shots in the fourth quarter.

“I wanted to keep my career going,” she said. “I had to step up. They were really making it hard for us, so I had to do what I could.”

UConn needed every one of them as the team nearly blew an 11-point lead in the final 1:47 of the game.

Louisville scored 10 of 11 points to cut its deficit to 75-73 with 26.6 seconds left. Samuelson then hit two free throws to make it a two-possession game.

Asia Durr was fouled a few seconds later, but the Cardinals’ senior leader missed both free throws. Napheesa Collier was fouled after the Cardinals’ missed a chance on an offensive rebound. She stepped up and sank both free throws on the other end to make it 79-73.

As the buzzer sounded, the Huskies all mobbed Samuelson at the foul line celebrating another trip to the Final Four.

“It’s amazing just to be part of this program, just to wear this name on our chest every day,” Samuelson said. “You know you’re part of something special. And they’ve created something amazing here. And for us we just want to be part of that and keep it going as long as we can.”

Louisville (32-4) was looking to become only the second team to beat UConn twice in a season in the past decade, joining fellow ACC school Notre Dame, which did it in 2012 and 2013. The Huskies could face the Irish in the Final Four in Tampa if Notre Dame beats Stanford in the Chicago Regional final on Monday night.

UConn was not a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006. While much was made of that leading up to this game, the only real differences as coach Geno Auriemma put it was that his team would wear the road blues and would be sitting on a different bench. The Huskies band also played the national anthem pregame. It certainly wasn’t a road game though with a very pro UConn crowd of 9,204 with the Albany site a 2-hour drive from Connecticut.

Samuelson has been dealing with a back injury since getting hurt against Houston in the final home game. She missed the entire American Athletic Conference Tournament. She struggled in the Sweet 16 victory over UCLA, scoring just six points and not hitting a basket until the fourth quarter.

She was much better against Louisville despite being saddled with foul trouble.

Her fifth 3-pointer of the game late in the third quarter gave UConn a 10-point lead. She soon after picked up her fourth foul and Louisville was able to cut its deficit to 57-53 heading into the final period.

The Cardinals hung around and were only down 66-62 when Samuelson hit a 3-pointer. With 3:02 left, Samuelson hit another 3-pointer and was fouled. She missed the ensuing free throw, but it gave UConn a 72-63 lead. The Cardinals trailed by 11 with 1:47 left before the exciting finish.

“It was a great basketball game. There was a lot of big plays made by both teams, unfortunately for us they made a few more,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “If you didn’t sit back and watch this game and appreciate how it was being played, then it’s a shame.”

Durr saw her brilliant career come to an end as she scored 18 of her 21 points in the second half to lead the Cardinals.

Samuelson got UConn going early. She hit a 3-pointer from the wing in the first quarter as UConn scored the first seven points of the game. Her back, which she injured late in the regular season, didn’t seem to be bothering her too much.

Louisville bounced back with a 9-0 run to go up 16-12. The Huskies scored the final 10 points of the quarter to lead 22-16. Durr missed all eight of her shots from the field in the period, but did have five rebounds and three assists.

The lead grew to 10 before Louisville made a run to get within four. The Huskies were up 41-34 at the half as Megan Walker had 12 of her 13 points, hitting four of UConn’s nine 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. UConn only hit eight 3s in the loss to Louisville in January.

No. 2 Oregon 88, No. 1 Mississippi State 84

PORTLAND, Ore. – Thanks to another stellar performance from Sabrina Ionescu and a lift from a home-state crowd, Oregon is heading to its first women’s Final Four.

Ionescu had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and the second-seeded Ducks beat No. 1 seed Mississippi State, 88-84, on Sunday.

Satou Sabally had 22 points and seven rebounds for the Ducks (33-4), who head to Tampa to face the winner of Monday’s game between top overall seed Baylor and Iowa.

At the final buzzer, Ionescu jumped into teammate Ruthy Hebard’s arms, and coach Kelly Graves flashed an “O” with his hands to the crowd. The Ducks had been eliminated in the Elite Eight the past two seasons.

Teaira McCowan had 19 points and 15 rebounds in her final game for the Bulldogs (33-3), who had played in the NCAA title game for the past two seasons. Two of Mississippi State’s losses this season were to Oregon, and the first one was a true road game.

This time, Mississippi State just felt like the away team, even though the Bulldogs wore their home whites. Attendance at the Moda Center was announced at 11,534, with the vast majority cheering on the Ducks – a tough draw for a top seed.

Ionescu’s jumper put Oregon up 78-73 with just under three minutes left. After McCowan made a pair of free throws, Ionescu added a 3.

Bre’Amber Scott’s layup with 54 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs within 81-77, but Maite Cazorla answered with a 3-pointer for the Ducks. Jazzmun Holmes’ jumper cut the margin to five points with 26.4 seconds to go, but Mississippi State could not catch up.

Oregon also beat Mississippi State in December, ending the Bulldogs’ streak of 46 consecutive regular-season nonconference wins.

Ionescu averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds going into Sunday’s game. The Pac-12 Player of the year has 18 career triple-doubles, an NCAA record among men and women, including eight this season.

The Bulldogs went up 15-8 early, but Sabally hit a 3-pointer that closed the gap as Oregon relied on its perimeter game. Ionescu’s 3 tied it at 19, but the Bulldogs had free throws to make it 21-19 at the end of the first quarter.

The Ducks hit five of eight 3-pointers in the opening period alone.

Oregon pulled in front 30-27 on Cazorla’s 3-pointer in the second quarter. The Ducks led 40-38 at the break. Ionescu led all scorers with 15 points, including three 3-pointers.

Hebard was tasked with guarding McCowan, but she collected a pair of fouls and went to the bench midway through the second quarter. But she opened the second half with a layup, and Ionescu added another to give the Ducks a 44-38 lead. Andra Espinoza-Hunter made a 3-pointer to close the gap.

Oregon held the edge until Howard’s layup put the Bulldogs in front 54-53.

Mississippi State got a scare late in the quarter when McCowan went down hard on a layup attempt and stayed on the floor for several moments. She went to the bench holding the right side of her chest.




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