Paige Bueckers beats JuJu Watkins and USC 80-73 to send UConn to the Final Four.

Portland, Oregon — Paige Bueckers wasted no time this year after seeing the women's NCAA Tournament last year. UConn tried everything to come back to the Final Four—every drive to the basket, every defensive deflection, every tumble. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said, “Today was Paige doing Paige things.”  

Bueckers scored 28 points in UConn's 80-73 regional final win over Southern California on Monday night to advance to the national semifinals. Bueckers defeated star USC freshman All-American JuJu Watkins, beginning a five-minute run that brought third-seeded UConn (33-5) to its 23rd national semifinal, the most of any school. Leading 65-64, the Huskies scored 11 straight points, including seven from Bueckers and a three-point play from Aaliyah Edwards, to defeat the top-seeded Trojans (29-6).  

This was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had, said Bueckers. Edwards scored 24 points, making this Final Four journey one of Auriemma's most unexpected in 39 years. After 14 straight Final Four visits ended, the Huskies won the Portland 3 Region despite injuries that left them with only eight healthy players, including two starters.  

“I think our coaching staff had to deal with a lot of new things this year. I admire our staff, Auriemma stated. Bueckers' streak ended last year due to a significant knee injury. She reached the Final Four as a freshman and was named national player of the year, but injuries have kept her from playing since, even though she made it to the title game with UConn as a sophomore.  

After missing all of last season, Bueckers may be better than ever. After Clark's incredible effort in a win against LSU, Bueckers nailed 11 of 23 shots and had 10 rebounds and six assists on one of the biggest nights in women's basketball history.  

Now I’m here with my teammates and coaching staff and going to the Final Four,” Bueckers added. “It was a rewarding journey. Everything is so appreciated. Tough times shaped me. It strengthened my faith. I appreciate life and everything that comes my way because of it.”  

A day after the NCAA discovered the 3-point line at one end of Moda Center was 9 inches shorter than the other, the Trojans and Huskies played on a rectified floor with the wrong line still visible for the final round in Cleveland.  

The Huskies celebrated after a rocky finish. UConn missed six free throws in the last minute, reducing a 12-point advantage to five. “For the most part, this was a really good basketball game and they beat us,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. Our performance was little inferior to theirs.

Watkins finished her freshman year with 29 points, but UConn's double-teams and defender changes made it hard for her to score. Watkins scored eight points in 15 minutes to surpass former San Diego State star Tina Hutchinson for the most by a freshman in NCAA history. The record was set by Watkins' second-quarter 3-pointer at the top of the key.  

UConn led 12-points midway through the third quarter after Watkins missed eight of her next nine baskets. Watkins' five straight points and McKenzie Forbes' fourth 3-pointer of the game put USC within 59-59 with 7:21 left, but the Huskies pulled away late.  

UConn defended well. Watkins, crying at the postgame dais, claimed someone was always there after the first line. Forbes scored 24 points and Rayah Marshall 11 for the Trojans, who were seeking their first Final Four berth since 1986.  

I don't know Paige personally, but to see that kid be out for two years and come back and do this, as much hurt as we're in, they earned it, and I credit them,” Gottlieb said. Double-Double: UConn and NC State may appear in their own Final Four. Two colleges sent men's and women's teams to the national semifinals in the same year for the first time in NCAA history.  

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