KINGSTON, R.I. – Before the season started, Geno Auriemma figured his Connecticut Huskies wouldn’t be good enough to make it to the Final Four.
A funny thing happened along the way: His starless team jelled and UConn is back in the national semifinals for a fifth straight season.
Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and top-seeded Connecticut beat Kentucky 80-65 on Tuesday night in the Kingston Regional final.
“We like to go to the Final Four every year,” Auriemma said. “I think we’re also realistic, some years it’s going to be easier than others. Expectations are always there, regardless of the probability. This year was less than other years. Makes it more worthwhile.”
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn (33-4), which will play Notre Dame on Sunday in Denver.
Hayes, who was selected most outstanding player of the regional, has been to a Final Four in all four of her seasons. Getting there this time was special to the senior.
“It’s even sweeter because this is a team effort, it wasn’t one or two people getting us there,” she said. “We all had our part in it. Everyone had their way of helping us get there. Glad to be back for the fourth time.”
The Huskies matched their school mark of five straight trips to the national semifinals set from 2000-04. 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. The Huskies converted 12 free throws during the game-changing run.
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.