The UConn Huskies are heading to the Final Four once again, but they had to survive an epic fight to get there.
On the back of another outstanding performance from freshman Paige Bueckers and a gritty effort from junior Christyn Williams, UConn took down the Baylor Bears, 69-67, in a highly entertaining game that ended with a defensive stop that sent the Huskies to their 13th straight national semifinal.
Bueckers scored a game-high 28 points on 10-22 shooting, playing the full 40 minutes and hitting many tough shots despite the size and physicality of Baylor’s defense. Williams finished with 21. The two keyed an important run in the third quarter when the game seemed to be slipping away.
Things started off great for UConn, who came out hot in a surprisingly fast-paced first half. The Huskies scored six of the game’s first eight points and jumped out to a 16-4 lead fast. Bueckers scored the first bucket and seven of UConn’s first 16 points. Bueckers, Evina Westbrook, and Christyn Williams combined to score all but two of the Huskies’ first-half points.
But Baylor responded with a run of its own. Aaliyah Edwards got two quick fouls in the span of a minute and it seemed to open things up for the Bears, who took control of the glass with 11 second-chance points as they outscored UConn by 13 the rest of the way to take a two-point lead into halftime.
Nearly eight minutes into the third quarter, Baylor’s Didi Richards went down with an apparent hamstring injury. As Richards, one of the best defenders in the country sat out and UConn’s season was on the ropes, Bueckers and the Huskies once again stepped up as UConn mounted a 19-0 run that would help them seal the deal.
The Huskies looked flat in the third quarter, with the Baylor lead ballooning, getting as high as 10, with 2:13 left. UConn scored exclusively from the free-throw line for nearly six minutes as the offense struggled mightily. UConn’s season and vaunted Final Four streak appeared to be on the edge.
But Bueckers got things started with a floater in the lane, the Huskies’ first field goal in over six minutes. After that, UConn got hot, with Christyn Williams and Bueckers drilling 3-pointers to end the period on a 7-0 run and down just two, 55-53.
As the fourth quarter got underway, the Huskies just kept going. After two made free throws from Williams, Aaliyah Edwards scored on a putback and Bueckers added five more points off a floater and a three. Forty seconds later, a layup from Williams gave the Huskies a 64-55 lead with seven minutes left to play.
But to its credit, this Baylor team just kept coming. They pulled within one point with 19 seconds left thanks to four free throws from DiJonai Carrington and some missed free throws by Christyn Williams. They had a shot at a game-winner, but Carrington’s shot on the low block was perfectly defended* by Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa and fell short of the rim.
* Baylor fans may disagree
This was Baylor's game-winning shot attempt with 3 seconds left in the game— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 30, 2021
should the refs have called this a foul? pic.twitter.com/jSdzAx9n7y
After starting once again in place of the injured Nika Muhl, Edwards made her presence felt on the boards and on the defensive end. Her physicality kept the Bears in check on both ends.
The Huskies needed every hand on deck to get past a talented Bears team. Hitting 47% from three was huge and the way they responded in a game where they took multiple haymakers (literally and figuratively) speaks volumes about their potential going forward. They advance to play Arizona in San Antonio on Friday night.