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Lincoln, Neb. — It comes through trustworthy sources that they play college basketball in places other than Storrs, Conn. They just don't play it as well. Certainly not in the spring of 2014.
And so one night after Dallas became wonderland for the UConn men, the women continued to cut a swath through the tournament field Monday night, earning a berth in their seventh straight Final Four. The Huskies outlasted Texas A&M, 69-54, at Pinnacle Bank Arena and are headed to Nashville for the 15th Final Four in program history.
The Huskies (38-0) will play the winner of tonight's Stanford-North Carolina game in the national semifinals Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena. Game time will be determined today.
This is the 11th time in NCAA history two basketball programs from the same school have made the Final Four and fifth time at UConn, the lone school to win national championships the same year (2004).
"There's so much pride now at our school," senior Bria Hartley said of the recent UConn-i-zation of college basketball.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies with 17 points. Stefanie Dolson had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks, while Hartley also had 14. Breanna Stewart had 13 points and Moriah Jefferson had 11 with six rebounds and six assists.
This wasn't necessarily easy, although they're not supposed to be in the regional finals. UConn's 11-point halftime lead shrunk quickly in the second half, creating some angst. A&M's Jordan Jones made consecutive threes to start the second half before the Aggies cut into the lead more with 15:08 left. Jones' layup made it 40-37. Texas A&M made its first six shots of the second half.
Jefferson (layup) and Hartley (three) pushed the lead to 45-37 with 13:15 remaining.
Stewart, who drew UConn coach Geno Auriemma's ire at halftime because of foul trouble and a general malaise, hit her first three of the game to make it 48-37, followed by Dolson's layup to make it 50-37, a 10-0 run.
The Aggies didn't get closer than 10 the rest of the way.
"They played hard," Jefferson said of the Aggies. "Every time you tried to cut you were getting hit. It was extremely physical."
Stewart scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, perhaps earning a reprieve fromher head coach, who turned to the bench and grinned when Stewart made her aformentioned three.
"I was frustrated with myself," Stewart said. "He was obviously frustrated. He doesn't want to see his players playing like that. In the second half, I thought I got back to my old self."
The Aggies took an early 11-4 lead, while the Huskies settled for three-pointers, most of which drew palms-up (and other) gestures from Auriemma. It was the second straight slow start for the Huskies, who coughed and wheezed their way through most of the first half last Saturday against Brigham Young in the regional semifinals.
If nothing else, the early deficit illustrated the finality of the Elite Eight game. Suddenly, all the gaudy numbers of the season became irrelevant, cowering to one little old number: one.
One night, one chance.
And then UConn blitzed A&M with a 26-6 run, eventually taking a 34-23 lead at halftime.
Mosqueda-Lewis scored 12 of the team's first 20 points, making Stewart's early foul trouble a duller ache. Stewart had two points and two assists early, but was whistled for her second foul with 10:55 left in the half. She came out with 8:03 remaining in favor of Kiah Stokes, who had three rebounds and a block that ended the first half.
The 26-6 run featured two notable baskets from Dolson, who made an up-and-under, perhaps channeling her inner Shabazz Napier. Later, she up-faked in the lane and drove to the basket, converting a left-handed layup.
Hartley and Jefferson also hit threes during the run.