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UConn Upsets U.S.C. for Last Berth in the Women’s Final Four

SportUConn Upsets U.S.C. for Last Berth in the Women’s Final Four

In the second star-studded matchup of Monday evening, Paige Bueckers led UConn past USC, 80-73, to advance to the Huskies’ second Final Four in the last three seasons. This will be UConn’s 23rd Final Four appearance in program history.

“It was one of the better games that I’ve been associated with at this level,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said postgame. “Two terrific teams. Great competitors playing their hearts out for a dream that each kid has when they go to college.”

Bueckers finished with a team-high 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, three steals and two blocks on 11-of-23 shooting and 3-for-6 from 3-point range. She notched her seventh straight 20-point performance in the win. Aaliyah Edwards added 24 points and six rebounds of her own for the Huskies.

USC freshman sensation JuJu Watkins scored a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks en route to becoming the all-time women’s Division I freshman scoring leader. McKenzie Forbes added 24 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Trojans.

USC raced out to an early 15-6 lead, exerting its advantage on the glass. But UConn quickly settled down, pressuring the ball, and executing precisely in the half-court. The Huskies quickly pounced upon any mistake the Trojans made on defense, whether that was a missed rotation on the back line or going under a screen on a shooter. The Huskies took their own six-point lead in the second quarter and never trailed from that point.

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While USC found minimal offense beyond Watkins and Forbes, UConn had unexpected contributions throughout the roster. Qadence Samuels hadn’t played since the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but the Huskies were a team-high plus-eight in her 14 minutes as she played solid defense and sank one 3-point jumper. Ice Brady, who Auriemma said is constantly giving him reasons not to play her with her performance in practice, chipped in eight points and had a massive block on Watkins at the rim.

UConn was the more complete team, and it didn’t hurt that the Huskies also had the best player on the court in Bueckers, who is advancing to her third Final Four in three collegiate seasons. The fourth-year senior is built for big moments, but was powerless to help her team in a Sweet 16 loss in 2023 as she rehabbed a torn ACL. She dazzled throughout Monday’s contest, but put the game away with seven points in 90 seconds in the fourth quarter.

“It sounds crazy to say with her numbers, there were times I thought we really guarded the actions well, she made some tough shots,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “A player like that, you can’t let her get anything easy because she’s even going to make the tough ones at times. I think that’s where we faltered a little bit. She’s just a tough shot-maker and a great all-around player.”

UConn will now take on Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes on April 5 for a chance to play in the national championship.

The Huskies and Hawkeyes last met in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, a Sweet 16 matchup that UConn won 92-72 in Bueckers and Clark’s freshman seasons. The Huskies made the Final Four that year, when Bueckers was the national player of the year. Clark won that honor in 2023 when she led Iowa to the national title game. Neither of the two has captured a national championship, though one will have a chance to play for that honor for the second time in their careers.

The last four years of college basketball have been defined by the greatness of Bueckers, Clark and South Carolina. All three will be in Cleveland to fight for the 2024 crown.

Required reading

(Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)


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