SAN ANTONIO – Paige Bueckers deserves every hype.
The rookie phenomenon scored 10 of their 28 points in a crucial 19-0 run in the fourth quarter on Monday night when UConn escaped a bloody battle against defending champions Baylor with a 69-67 win.
UConn reached their 13th Final Four in a row – the last time it was missing in 2007 was Bueckers 5 – where the Huskies will face the Arizona-Indiana winners on Friday night.
DiJonai Carrington, who carried the second-occupied bears all night, almost single-handedly ended the game, taking two free throws 19 seconds to go to reduce UConn’s lead to 68-67. Christyn Williams missed both free throws at the other end and NaLyssa Smith grabbed the rebound.
Carrington tried to put a sweater on the left with a second, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa seemed to slap her in the face. But there was no call to end Baylor’s chances.
“What you saw?” Baylor trainer Kim Mulkey said when someone asked what she saw on the play. When Mulkey said it looked like a foul, he replied, “Then write it this way. You don’t need a quote from me.
“A kid slaps her face and a kid slaps her elbow,” added Mulkey.
After being announced as regional champions, the huskies danced in a group in the square.
Carrington finished one of three Baylor players in double digits with 22 points.
While these have been two of the best programs in the country in the last decade, this was only the ninth meeting between UConn and Baylor. The Bears had won the last two – a streak UConn coach Geno Auriemma hadn’t lost. He said on Sunday he doesn’t understand how Baylor is number 2, and he really doesn’t understand how they got dragged into the same regional as UConn.
Auriemma’s concern was justified as Baylor’s quick, physical defense dominated a young UConn roster. At one point, Baylor had a 10-3 advantage on sales and had converted it to 10 points. The Huskies also had no answer for Carrington who was great in the first half when the bears established controls.
But Bueckers heated up at the end of the third quarter and started a 19-0 run that finally gave UConn the lead. Bueckers had two 3-pointers during the sprint, which Williams completed with a fastbreak layup.
It didn’t help the Bears that they were without guard DiDi Richards, who left the game at 7:42 to play with an apparent hamstring injury, and that Carrington was whistled for two attacks along the way for two attacks.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour