TRENTON, N.J. – All season long the Connecticut women’s basketball has been on cruise control, dominating opponents with double-digit victory margins.
Sunday was no different; it just took some time.
When the Huskies found themselves down eight points – their biggest deficit of the year – they didn’t panic. Instead, the Huskies turned up the defense, forced turnovers and outscored the Bears during a crucial stretch to advance to their 14th regional final in the last 16 seasons.
Freshman Tiffany Hayes scored a career-high 28 points as the undefeated Huskies beat fourth-seeded California 77-53.
The Huskies will face Arizona State on Tuesday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
Trailing by eight late in the first half, Connecticut went on a 40-12 run over the next 20 minutes to take control of the game.
“As time went on the true character of this team came out,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I love the way we handled the game in the second half. That was classic Connecticut basketball.”
UConn (36-0) continued its march toward the school’s third perfect season. The Huskies have entered the NCAAs unbeaten three other times. Connecticut went on to win the national championship in 1995 and 2002. In 1996-97, the Huskies lost to Tennessee in the regional final.
Ashley Walker scored 21 to lead California (27-7), which was making its first trip to the regionals after blowing out Fresno State and Virginia in the first two rounds.
Purdue 67, Rutgers 61: At Oklahoma City, Lakisha Freeman scored 18 points, and sixth-seeded Purdue held off a late rally to beat Rutgers to reach the round of eight in the NCAA Tournament.
FahKara Malone hit a key basket in the final minute and Jodi Howell added the clinching free throws with 6.2 seconds left for Purdue (25-10), which became the second No. 6 seed this year to reach the round of eight, joining Arizona State.
Oklahoma 70, Pittsburgh 59: At Oklahoma City, Whitney Hand set new career-highs with 22 points and eight rebounds, and the top-seeded Sooners rolled to the regional finals for only the second time in school history.
Oklahoma (31-5) put the game away with a 20-2 second-half surge that included a wild, right-handed scoop shot by Hand that bounded its way into the basket.
The Sooners were hardly bothered by foul trouble that kept Courtney Paris off the court much of the game, getting double-digit scoring from all five starters.