September 27, 2022

Paige Bueckers erupts late to save UConn’s Final Four streak in double OT thriller

Bueckers had just four points at halftime but finished with 27. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Paige Bueckers scored 15 of her 27 points in the two overtimes, and UConn beat North Carolina State 91-87 to extend the Huskies’ record women’s Final Four streak to 14 straight on Monday night.

The Huskies, who had been 0-for-5 in the NCAA Tournament in overtime in their history, will face top seed Stanford on Friday night in the national semifinals in Minneapolis.

Bueckers, who grew up 10 miles outside the site of the Final Four, scored the five points in the second overtime to lift the Huskies (29-5). The sensational sophomore, who missed two months this season with a knee injury, once again looked like the player who was the AP Player of the Year in 2021. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Region.

With N.C. State within 86-84 in the second OT, Christyn Williams hit the second of two free throws and then a layup with 21 seconds left to give UConn a 89-85 lead.

Jakia Brown-Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds in the first overtime to tie the game, then made a layup to get the Wolfpack within two, but Williams converted a layup off the inbounds to seal the win.

Brown-Turner finished with 20 points for N.C. State (32-4).

Both teams had chances to win in the final 30 seconds of regulation. UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa was fouled with 28 seconds left and missed both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Diamond Johnson dribbled down the clock and drove before passing it back out to Kai Crutchfield, who was way off on a deep 3-pointer from the wing.

N.C. State was trying to reach the national semifinals for the second time in school history. The Wolfpack made it that far in 1998, beating the Huskies in the Elite Eight that season to advance. None of the current roster was even alive then.

Crutchfield, Raina Perez and Kayla Jones all came back this year using their extra COVID-19 season that was granted by the NCAA to try and lift the Wolfpack to new heights. They succeeded, advancing farther than the team had in 24 years.

The Huskies dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues all season and had their most losses since 2012, including their first conference defeat in nine years and their first loss to an unranked team since 2012.

Things have been looking up for UConn since the team started getting healthy, starting with Bueckers.

INJURED HUSKY

UConn suffered a major blow when senior center Dorka Juhasz went down in the first half with a scary-looking injury just above her left wrist. She was fouled on a putback attempt and landed awkwardly when she tried to put her hands down to brace her fall.

Juhasz was on the floor in tears and was helped back to the locker room with her team up by seven points. The Huskies extended the advantage to 10 before N.C. State cut it to 34-28 at the half.

She returned to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter dressed in warmups with with her arm in a sling.