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Sweet 16: UConn Women’s Basketball Survives UCLA Scare, 69-61

The Huskies needed a dominant fourth quarter to secure their 14th consecutive trip to the Elite Eight.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Despite trailing going into the fourth quarter, the UConn women’s basketball team defeated the 6-seed UCLA Bruins in the Sweet Sixteen to advance to the Elite Eight.

After three quarters, the Huskies were behind 50-49 after gradually watching their lead disappear. UConn’s offense was stagnant and struggled to find the basket. But a flip switched at the start of the fourth quarter.

UConn came out with its hair on fire, going on a quick 6-0 run that forced UCLA to take a timeout while firing up the heavily pro-UConn crowd in Albany. From there, the Huskies saw weakness and went for the jugular. Despite having just four points in the first 30 minutes, Crystal Dangerfield exploded in the fourth quarter with 11 points.

Then Katie Lou Samuelson, who had been quiet most of the night, hit an and-one with 5:19 remaining that put UConn up 11 and essentially ended UCLA’s hopes.

While the Huskies dominated the fourth quarter, the Bruins had them on the ropes for much of the game.

UCLA started its first possession by grabbing a pair of offensive rebounds which they used to drain a three-pointer and take a 3-0. After stopping UConn, the Bruins came back down and extended the lead to 5-0.

Napheesa Collier needed to take matters into her own hands. She went on a 6-0 run by herself to give the Huskies a 6-5 lead. The senior scored 10 of UConn’s first 13 points, all of which came before the first under-five timeout.

After the teams traded baskets for a few possessions, UConn went on a 8-0 run to take a commanding lead over the Bruins. The Husky defense was strong, holding the opposition without a basket for nearly three minutes. Later on, UConn froze them out from scoring for another four minutes. Over that span, the Huskies built a double-digit lead, capped by a three-pointer from freshman Christyn Williams.

But from there, UConn went ice cold. The Huskies failed to score for the final 5:14 of the half as UCLA went on a 7-0 run to get it within five points going into the break.

It was an uncharacteristically sloppy first half for UConn as they turned the ball over seven times. The Huskies offense went through Collier, Walker and Williams, who combined for 29 of UConn’s 31 first-half points as Dangerfield and Samuelson failed to score in the first 20 minutes.

In the third quarter, UCLA found its stroke from three and went on a 7-0 run to cut UConn’s lead to just one point, prompting a timeout from Geno Auriemma.

Collier stopped the run with an impressive lay-in while fouled, but missed the free throw. The very next possession, the Bruins hit another three to tie the game at 39. After a timeout, UCLA took their first lead since early in the first quarter and went up as many as five points at one point.

UConn fought back to cut the UCLA lead to one entering the final period. Whatever Geno said in the locker room in between worked. The Huskies came out with fire after the timeout and closed out yet another Sweet Sixteen victory, their 14th in a row. Geno Auriemma’s program has been to the Elite Eight 24 out of the last 26 years.

Collier turned in another dominant overall performance, dropping 25 points on 11-15 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds. Williams came to play as well with 14 points of her own. Walker paired seven points with 10 rebounds in the win.

Next up, UConn will play the winner of Louisville and Oregon State, on Sunday.