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UConn women win, reach ninth straight Final Four

Connecticut 's Breanna Stewart reacts during the

Connecticut 's Breanna Stewart reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in the regional final of the women's NCAA Tournament, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Bridgeport, Conn. Credit: AP / Jessica Hill

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Connecticut is headed back to the women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four, thanks to its stellar senior class of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson. The All-American trio took over in the third quarter and helped top-seeded UConn to an 86-65 win over second-seeded Texas on Monday night, sending the Huskies to the Final Four for the ninth straight season.

“We’re the seniors, and we’ve got to make big plays in big moments,” said Jefferson, who had 11 points and nine assists. “They were on a run, and we really needed to step up.”

Tuck scored 22 points and Stewart added 21 points and 13 rebounds for UConn (36-0), which is trying for a record fourth consecutive national championship. The Huskies will play Oregon State in the national semifinals Sunday night.

“Nine times is a lot of Final Fours,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “That’s a lot. That’s a lot of players over a lot of years. It’s not easy to do.”

The win, UConn’s 73rd straight overall, was the school’s 22nd straight victory in the postseason, breaking a tie with Tennessee for the most in a row. Two more victories will give Auriemma an 11th title, moving him past UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most in college basketball history.

“We’re really excited to go to the Final Four,” said Stewart, named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. “I think that any time you go, it’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot going on . . . This is our last trip with this team. Last time to be with this team. And I think we’re just going to enjoy it. Especially as seniors. Last time it’s going to be like this.”

This was the second straight year that UConn ended the Longhorns’ season. UConn beat Texas (31-5) by 51 points in the Sweet 16 last season. Texas made it one step further this season, and unlike last time, the Longhorns — led by Ariel Atkins and Lashann Higgs, who scored 19 points each — hung around with the Huskies on Monday night.

“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our basketball team,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “It’s a tough night for us, lots of seniors, lots of tears, lots of people that didn’t want it to end.’’

Texas trailed by only 30-25 with 7:21 left in the second quarter before Stewart started a 12-1 run that blew open the game. Freshman Naphessa Collier was big in the game-changing spurt, scoring five straight points.

“During [Texas’] run, when they were really good, I remember sitting down and going, you know, this is really great for women’s basketball,” Auriemma joked. “Not really. I’m thinking, ‘You know what’s good for Connecticut basketball? We need to go on a 12-0 run.’ ”

The Huskies led by 15 at the half and pushed it to 21 early in the third quarter, but Texas hit three straight three-pointers to come within 54-42.

Tuck then scored 12 points, Stewart nine and Jefferson five as UConn made it 82-60 with 1:38 left. That’s when the three seniors exited. “It was me, Morgan and Moriah saying, all right, we have to do this, we have to take over, we have to take control,” Stewart said. “We’re the most experienced and we’re the ones that should do it.”

New York Sports