By Arnie Leshin
It’s record streak of 14 Final Fours wiped out in Saturday’s stunning Elight Eight setback to Ohio State, the Connecticut women left the NCAA March Madness in the hands of its men’s team.
And what Danny Hurley’s 4th-seeded Huskies did was turn a close game into a 82-54 shellacking over 2nd-seeded Gonzaga to advance them to the Final Four against Sunday’s winner at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Although UConn (29-8) has a pretty good track record, 8-1 all-time in Final Four games, it did lose its tournament first round games the last two years. But this is a different story for a team that got away to a breakaway start, faded at the midway point, and surged to this level by ending the Bulldogs’ season at 31-6.
And after going on a late first half run to go ahead by seven at the intermission, UConn tuned it into a no contest runaway second half when Gonzaga All-America Drew Timme went to the bench with his fourth personal foul.
With that, the Zags, who edged 3rd seed UCLA in the previous round, went on to shoot a dismal 33% from the floor on 7-of-29 tries, and went a 2-for-20 from the three to stumble in their bid for a third Final Four since 2017.
“UConn was just terrific tonight,” said Gonzaga’s long-time head coach Mark Few, “and we just didn’t have any answers, especially when kind of everything really didn’t bounce our way, and we can’t absorb a game like this when our offense is as bad as it was tonight.”
The Huskies didn’t have any problems. The Zags began theirs early with back-to-back air-balled 3-pointers and a wild runner by Timme, who wound up with a dozen points and 10 rebounds.
Once he fouled out, his teammates dropped further behind as UConn got behind its balanced attack to get 12 points from guard Alex Karaban and 10 from its versatile post player Adama Santigo, who also brought down 14 boards to go with four blocks and five assists.
“We’ve gotten to that point,” Hurley said, “where we’re piecing everything together and getting big play from everybody at just the right time.”
This impressive Husky win came a few hours after its women had a rare misstep in closing out with a 73-61 loss against the Buckeyes in Seattle. It ended the remarkable streak of head coach Geno Auriemma’s program that has already won a record 11 national championships.
It just wasn’t the best of games for the women of Storrs. They led early, but then ran into a sticky pressure defense by an Ohio State team that had begun its season with 18 straight wins, had a midseason lapse, and have turned it up again to gain the Final Four
In other women’s games, surprising No. 9 Miami ousted No. 5 Villanova, 70-65, to stay abreast of its men who also earned a spot in its Final Four, while No. 1 Virginia Tech eliminated No. 4 Tennessee, 73-64, No. 1 undefeated South Carolina knocked out No. 4 UCLA, 59-43, No. 2 Maryland sent No. 3 Notre Dame packing, 76-59, and 3rd-seeded LSU won a 66-63 tight one over 2nd-seeded Utah.
The women’s Final Four will be contested at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, and today Miami (23-12) faces LSU (32-2) and Virginia Tech (30-4) meets Ohio State (28-7).
On Monday, the Gamecocks play Maryland (27-6), and Iowa (32-6) takes on Louisville (31-5).
In the men’s Elite Eight Sunday, the opener in Louisville, Ky., went to 5th-seeded San Diego State over 6th-seeded Creighton, 57-56, on a foul shot in the final two seconds. In game two, 8th-seeded Miami faced 2nd-seeded Texas in Kansas City, Mo.
On Friday in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston, 9th-seeded Florida Atlantic University will play San Diego State and the Miami-Texas survivor will go against UConn.