UConn women headed to Final Four for record sixth straight time

Buy Photo Tim Martin/The Day UConn's Bria Hartley (14) runs into Kentucky's Kastine Evans, the ex-NFA star, during the second half of Monday night's Bridgeport Regional Final. Hartley came off the bench to score 10 points as the Huskies rolled to an 83-53 win and into their sixth straight NCAA Final Four.

Bridgeport - Narratives change in sports much like cabbies in Manhattan: quickly, sometimes astonishingly and occasionally without much warning.

And so we present the UConn women, the belles of wouldas, shouldas and couldas all season, the owners of all the forlorn looks three weeks ago after another brutal loss to Notre Dame.

Could this have been the same group awash in utter joy Monday night?

Stefanie Dolson, bad leg and all, dancing the night away at midcourt moments after it ended?

Two seniors, Kelly Faris and Heather Buck, bear-hugging freshman Breanna Stewart, either through jubilation or perhaps in a rousing thank you for delivering them to the big party?

Happily, all answers are affirmative.

The Huskies will get the full Arlo Guthrie this week, riding to the city of New Orleans, back in the Final Four for the sixth straight season.

UConn dispatched Kentucky, 83-53, before a full house at Webster Bank Arena and will play the winner of tonight's Duke-Notre Dame game at the Final Four at either 6:30 or 9 p.m. Sunday night.

How quickly, indeed, this has gone from "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" to "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now."

"We just a made conscious effort and came together really well," junior guard Bria Hartley said. "We realized 'This is it. We really have to change.' It's the NCAA tournament. That helped motivate us. It's a mindset.

"The mind is a powerful thing," Hartley said. "Going out there and not having any doubt in yourself or each other. Early in the season there was a little bit of doubt and that doubt could kill you."

Now they're just killing everyone else.

Stewart, named the regional's Most Outstanding Player, led the Huskies with 21 points. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 17 points and Faris had 12. Freshman Moriah Jefferson, treated to several ovations, had 10 points as did Hartley.

Stewart, who found herself all alone on a break in the second half, caused a tremor in the crowd, which anticipated a dunk. She resisted. But the very idea illustrates she is like no other player they've had here in program history: the 6-foot-4 forward with the guard's skills, center's shot-blocking ability and the athlete's ability to throw down.

"She's playing like the player we all knew she had in her," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I don't know anybody who can stop her."

UConn (33-4) actually trailed 23-22 with 9:07 left in the first half. That's when A'dia Mathies made a free throw that gave the Wildcats (30-6) the lead. From there, however, UConn used a 17-0 run and ran away like Seattle Slew.

"That run was insane," Dolson said.

Indeed. The Huskies led by 22 at halftime and were never again threatened.

"How we went through this region shows you how ready and confident we are," Dolson said.

Mosqueda-Lewis: "It's incredible, the way we won tonight. The team effort makes it so much better."

UConn will rest for a while this week before traveling to New Orleans, site of two previous Final Fours in program history. The Huskies went for the first time in 1991 and lost to Virginia. They won the 2004 national championship there, completing an all-UConn production, joining the men as champions.

"Each year it gets more exciting and more rewarding," Dolson said. "I've never been to New Orleans. Wait till you see my dress."

m.dimauro@theday.com

UConn's Bria Hartley drives to the basket past the outstretched right arm of Kentucky's Jelleah Sidney during the first half of Monday night's Bridgeport Regional final at Webster Bank Arena. Hartley came off the bench to score 10 points as the Huskies used a 17-point run in the first half to take control and beat the Wildcats 83-53. Up next is a trip to their sixth straight Final Four, this time in New Orleans where they will play either Notre Dame or Duke in the national semifinals Sunday night.
Buy Photo Tim Martin/ The Day UConn's Bria Hartley drives to the basket past the outstretched right arm of Kentucky's Jelleah Sidney during the first half of Monday night's Bridgeport Regional final at Webster Bank Arena. Hartley came off the bench to score 10 points as the Huskies used a 17-point run in the first half to take control and beat the Wildcats 83-53. Up next is a trip to their sixth straight Final Four, this time in New Orleans where they will play either Notre Dame or Duke in the national semifinals Sunday night.
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