KINGSTON, R.I. — Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and top-seed Connecticut beat Kentucky 80-65 on Tuesday night to advance to the Final Four for the fifth straight season.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn (33-4), which will play the winner of Notre Dame and Maryland on Sunday in Denver. The Huskies matched their own school mark of five straight trips to the national semifinals. LSU and Stanford have also accomplished the feat.
Unlike their previous four trips to the regional finals, which were quick blowouts, the Huskies had to work hard to pull away from the Wildcats.
UConn led 48-47 early in the second half before turning up its defense. The Huskies used a 21-4 spurt to take command. Hayes, the lone senior on the team, was the catalyst, scoring seven points during the run. She got it started with a lay-in. Then the Huskies started a parade to the free throw line, with whistle after whistle. The Huskies converted 12 free throws during the game-changing run.
Hayes was selected most outstanding player of the regional.
While the Huskies were scoring points, their vaunted defense was stymieing the Wildcats. Kentucky torched UConn for 39 points, the most allowed in a first half this season by the Huskies.
The Wildcats found it much tougher to score in the second half. During UConn's burst, Kentucky could only get two field goals over a span of 9 minutes.
Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-pointer with 7:26 left capped UConn's burst and made it 69-52.
Kentucky (28-7) could get no closer than 15 the rest of the way.
Samarie Walker scored 14 to lead the Wildcats.
It's been a strange season for UConn. Coming into the year, coach Geno Auriemma didn't think this team could make a run at the Final Four or an eighth national championship. With the loss of Maya Moore to graduation, the Huskies had a lot of questions about themselves.
Despite running through the early part of their schedule, Auriemma knew it was just a matter of time before the team's shortcomings were exposed. Losses to Baylor and Notre Dame on the road were understandable, but it wasn't until the end of February that UConn really came to a crossroads.
The Huskies lost to St. John's at home on senior night snapping a 99-game home winning streak. Nine days later the Huskies fell to Notre Dame. Those two defeats got the Huskies refocused and they've been unstoppable ever since. The Huskies cruised to the Big East tournament championship and rolled through their first three NCAA tournament games.
Now the Huskies are back in the Final Four for the 13th time in the last 18 years.
No. 1 Notre Dame 80,No. 2 Maryland 49
At Raleigh, N.C., Skylar Diggins had a triple-double and Notre Dame claimed its second straight berth in the national semifinals by beating Maryland in the Raleigh Regional final.
Diggins did it all for the top-seeded Fighting Irish (34-3). The Big East player of the year and AP All-America selection finished with 22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds — and five steals.
Natalie Achonwa added 18 points while Kayla McBride had 16 and Natalie Novosel finished with 14. Alyssa Thomas scored 17 points, and Tianna Hawkins and Alicia DeVaughn each had 10. Second-seeded Maryland (31-5) was denied its first trip to the Final Four since the Terrapins won the 2006 national title.