UConn tops Stanford 63-58, advances to NCAA title game to face South Carolina

UConn’s Evina Westbrook grabs a ball in front of Stanford’s Francesca Belibi. (Eric Gay/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Paige Bueckers scored 14 points and UConn advanced to the national championship game with a 63-58 win over defending champion Stanford on Friday night.

The Huskies will face South Carolina for the national championship on Sunday night. The Gamecocks beat the Cardinals 72-59 in the first game of the Final Four.

It’s UConn’s first trip to the championship game since 2016, when the Huskies won the last of four straight championships. Since then, the team has suffered heartbreaking defeats in the national semifinals, losing twice in overtime.

UConn (30-5) will be seeking its 12th national championship, and the Huskies have never lost in an NCAA title game.

They had to work to get to the finals. Leading by 52-44 with 1:26 left, Stanford made a furious rally thanks to a few costly UConn turnovers.

Cameron Brink’s layup with 18.4 seconds left got the Cardinal within 60-58. UConn was able to work seven seconds off the clock before Christyn Williams was fouled with 11 seconds left. The senior guard calmly swished both free throws to restore a two-possession lead.

Ashten Prechtel completely missed a tough contested 3-pointer from the wing with 5.4 seconds left and the Huskies held on for the win.

Haley Jones led the Cardinal (32-4) with 20 points.

This has been the most challenging year of Geno Auriemma’s Hall of Fame coaching career. Eight players had to sit out at least two

games this season with injury or illness, including Bueckers who missed nearly three months with a left knee injury suffered in early December.

In the fourth quarter, Bueckers came up grimacing when she went down hard going for a defensive rebound. She left the game for a few minutes, and every time she hit the floor, she seemed to check on her knee.

This was the latest matchup on the biggest stage between Hall of Fame coaches Tara VanDerveer and Auriemma, who are first and second on the all-time wins list in women’s basketball. Their two teams met 27 years ago in Minneapolis to the day in the national semifinals and the Huskies also won that one. They went on to win their first title that year.

The game got off to a slow start as neither team really could find its shooting touch. UConn led 12-9 after one quarter and was up 27-26 at the half. The teams combined to shoot 36% (23 for 64) in the opening 20 minutes. Stanford was able to keep it close by outscoring UConn 20-6 in the paint.

The low-scoring half was reminiscent of the 2010 title game when the teams played in the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Cardinal led that one 20-12 at the half. UConn went on to win that one 53-47 — one of four victories for the Huskies over the Cardinal in the Final Four or championship rounds.