UConn overcomes adversity again to advance to Final Four
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — UConn’s players were visibly shaken Monday night when teammate Dorka Juhasz suffered a horrific injury to her left arm during the first half of the Huskies regional final win over North Carolina State.
But in what has become a team hallmark this season, Connecticut shook off that adversity and beat the Wolfpack 91-87 in two overtimes to advance to a 14th straight Final Four. It also was the team’s 14th straight win.
“I think having been through all the things that we have been through and knowing that we’re in the middle of a game right now, I think they refocused pretty well, considering,” coach Geno Auriemma said.
The Huskies were led by 27 points from Paige Bueckers, who was playing just her ninth game back after missing almost three months with a fracture and torn meniscus in her left knee, an injury suffered during the last minute of a win over Notre Dame on Dec. 5.
“She’s still a kid and she still did miss two months of basketball,” Auriemma said. “And not just the games, she missed two months of practice. It was going to take time. Who knew? I had no expectation this would come, this kind of moment that she had. But you know, Paige is different.”
The Huskies also got 19 points from freshman Azzi Fudd, the nation’s top-rated recruit this fall, who also missed two months of the season and 11 games between Nov. 22 and Jan. 25 with a stress injury in her right foot.
In fact, eight UConn players had to sit out at least two games this season with injury or illness, setbacks that led to 10 different starting lineups and UConn’s first five-loss season in a decade.
“A lot of us have gone down at one point or another in the season, so we’ve kind of learned how to sub in and just keep rolling with the punches,” said senior guard Christyn Williams (21 points), who worked her way back from a bout with COVID-19 in January. “Yeah, we always find a way to get it done.”
Juhasz, a senior transfer from Ohio State, went down in the first half when she was fouled on a layup attempt and tried to brace her fall.
Auriemma said there was a clean fracture and dislocation just above her left wrist. Juhasz was on the floor in tears and was helped to the locker room with her team up by seven points.
“One shining moment? Well, one moment that ain’t that shiny and your season is over,” Auriemma said. “That’s how fragile this is and that’s why you’ve go to appreciate it and you’ve got to enjoy it.”
That is a lesson Bueckers said she and her teammates have had to learn the hard way this season, but has served them well in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re not looking into the future,” she said. “We’re being where our feet are and staying in the present.”
The Huskies will go into the Final Four looking for a record 12th national title, with a rotation of eight players, all of whom have had to step up at one point or another this season. First up is defending champion Stanford.
“You know when everybody is healthy they’ve got a shot to win it all,” North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said.
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