Paige Bueckers and the Huskies put together a classic one to begin the second half against Indiana on Saturday and move into the program’s 16th consecutive regional final.
Bueckers’ 3-pointer to open the third quarter began the 16-0 onslaught and the Huskies ran away from Indiana 75-58 in the Bridgeport Regional.
“We started pushing the ball in transition more; we got a few easy buckets there,” Bueckers said. “I thought we played with a lot better pace and just a lot better energy.”
Bueckers and Christyn Williams each scored 15 points and Azzi Fudd had 13 to lead UConn, which faces top-seeded North Carolina State on Monday night in an attempt to earn a 14th straight trip to the Final Four.
But it was in the lane where the Huskies dominated. Olivia Nelson-Ododa had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds and Connecticut (28-5) outscored the Hoosiers 46-32 in the paint. UConn also outrebounded Indiana 39-27, including 15-2 on the offensive end.
“Throughout the season rebounding has been a point of emphasis, especially from the coaches,” Nelson-Ododa said. “Just going out there today, staying in an aggressive mentality and just keep attacking, keep crashing the boards was really huge for us.”
Ali Patberg, in her seventh year of college basketball thanks to transfer and COVID-19 rules, had 16 points for the third-seeded Hoosiers, who finish their season at 24-9. Grace Berger had 13 points and Mackenzie Holmes added 12 for Indiana.
“I’m not a good loser,” Patberg said. “So this is not how I envisioned going out. But I’m just thankful that Coach (Teri) Moren believed in me five years ago and gave me an opportunity to wear Hoosier on my chest. I just hope that the time I had at IU people just remember how hard I played and I was a good teammate and worked as hard as I could.”
Indiana opened the game with an 8-2 run, but UConn came back to lead 37-33 at the half.
Williams’ layup put UConn up by double digits for the first time at 44-33. A free throw from Aaliyah Edwards (nine points, 10 rebounds) capped the run and gave the Huskies their first 20-point advantage at 53-33.
“During that stretch there was a look about us that we felt exceptionally confident,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We knew exactly where we were going. We knew where the ball was going. We knew where the shots were coming from. We could pick and choose which shots we wanted to take, and we got more layups than we had gotten in the previous two quarters.”
Indiana outscored UConn 13-6 to close the quarter and cut the deficit to 11 midway through the fourth quarter on a basket by Holmes.
But Bueckers responded at the other end and the Hoosiers could not close the gap any further.
TESTING THE LEG
The Huskies got a first-quarter scare when Bueckers went down on a steal attempt and grabbed her surgically repaired left knee. She ran to the bench and had it worked on by trainers, but returned for the start of the second quarter. She played 33 minutes in her eighth game back from the injury that kept her out more than two months.
“It’s been a little bit of finding ourselves again, how much do we want to cheer for Paige and how much do we need to just play basketball and make shots and let her figure her own way out out there,” Auriemma said. “Today she took a more assertive role, which I like for her to do.”
Indiana benefited from a bizarre play that ended the first half. UConn’s Edwards tossed a missed layup from Holmes out of bounds, apparently believing the clock had expired. But that gave the Hoosiers the ball back with 1.2 seconds left. That was enough time for a 3-pointer by Aleksa Gulbe before the halftime buzzer.
Indiana: At 24-9, finished a win shy of the program record. The No. 3 seed was the highest in program history in the NCAA Tournament for the Hoosiers, who were playing in their second straight Sweet 16 after making it to the regional finals last year.
“Our chemistry has been off the charts the last two seasons, and a lot of it has to do with not just because they’re good basketball players but because they’re good kids, and they like each other, and they care about each other,” Moren said.
UConn: The Huskies have not given up 60 points since Feb. 11, when they beat DePaul 84-60. They had held their previous 10 opponents to 51 points or fewer, giving up 40 points or fewer in seven of those games.
UConn will face North Carolina State Monday night in the regional final.