Before the season started, Coach Geno Auriemma figured his Connecticut Huskies wouldn’t be good enough to make it to the Final Four.
A funny thing happened along the way: His starless team jelled, and now UConn is back in the national semifinals for a fifth straight season.
Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points, and top-seed Connecticut beat Kentucky 80-65 on Tuesday night in the Kingston regional final.
“We like to go to the Final Four every year,” Auriemma said. “I think we’re also realistic, some years it’s going to be easier than others. Expectations are always there, regardless of the probability.
“This year was less than other years. Makes it more worthwhile. Last year we went as a team led by Maya Moore. This year there isn’t any of that. The University of Connecticut is going to the Final Four, and I think that’s pretty cool once in a while.”
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn, 33-4, which will play Notre Dame in a semifinal on Sunday in Denver.
Hayes, who was selected Most Outstanding Player of the regional, has been to a Final Four in all four of her seasons. Getting there this time was special to the senior.
“It’s even sweeter because this is a team effort, it wasn’t one or two people getting us there,” she said.
The Huskies matched their own school mark of five straight trips to the Final Four set from 2000-04. LSU and Stanford have also accomplished the feat.
UConn had to work for this one. The Huskies led 48-47 early in the second half before turning up their defense. The Huskies used a 21-4 spurt to take command. Hayes, the lone senior on the team, was the catalyst, scoring seven points during the run. She got it started with a lay-in. Then the Huskies started a parade to the free-throw line, with whistle after whistle. The Huskies converted 12 free throws during the game-changing run.
Second-seeded Kentucky, 28-7, could get no closer than 15 the rest of the way.