LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Music City is the next stop for a Connecticut women’s team that just keeps humming along in search of a record ninth national championship.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis continued her splendid run through the NCAA tournament with 17 points, and UConn advanced to the women’s Final Four for the seventh straight year with a 69-54 victory against Texas A&M on Monday night.
“It’s not easy to beat anybody at this time of the year because everybody is playing their best basketball,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We beat a pretty good team today, and I’m proud of my team. I thought we were really, really good when we needed to be really, really good.”
The defending national champion Huskies (38-0) won their 44th straight game. Their semifinal opponent Sunday in Nashville will be either Stanford or North Carolina.
Stefanie Dolson, who made her 150th career start to tie the NCAA record, had 14 points and 10 rebounds and blocked a career-high eight shots. Bria Hartley had 14 points, Breanna Stewart added 13 and Moriah Jefferson 11.
“It feels amazing and is really unexplainable,” Dolson said. “A lot of people around the nation can’t say they’ve made it once to the Final Four or having the opportunity to play for a national championship. For me to have the opportunity four times, and this being my senior year, I’m very excited.”
Courtney Walker led Texas A&M (27-9) with 14 points. Courtney Williams had 13 and Jordan Jones 12.
Mosqueda-Lewis, an All-American last year who missed a total of 12 games this season because of injury or illness, turned in another great performance and was named the regional’s most outstanding player.
She had a triple-double against Saint Joseph’s in the second round and 19 points and 13 rebounds against BYU on Saturday. Against the Aggies in the regional final she provided the spark after the Huskies found themselves in an early hole.
Her play made up for the slow start of American Athletic Conference player of the year Breanna Stewart, who got into early foul trouble and scored just two of her 13 points in the first half.
“I just look at it as a clean slate,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “This tournament was a chance for me to turn things around and not really worry about my injury or my sickness and just be able to help my team as much as I can.”
The Aggies had shot 60 percent in their 84-65 win over DePaul on Saturday, their best mark ever in an NCAA tournament game. They hit 28.9 percent the first half while falling behind 34-23 against UConn and finished at 35.3 percent for the game.
The Aggies had won their first three games in the tournament by 15 points or more, but they ran into a UConn club that was just too powerful, whether in transition or in the paint.
The Aggies made their first six shots of the second half to cut into UConn’s 11-point halftime lead. Jones hit a pair of 3s, and after she drove to the hoop on Jefferson, A&M was within 40-37.
The Huskies cranked up their transition game, went on a 10-0 spurt and outscored the Aggies 27-12 to build their lead to 18 points in the final 3 minutes. No team has played UConn closer than 11 points this season.
“We competed, and I thought we really had a chance when we cut it to three,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “A great team just looks you in the face and says, `Is that all you got?’ They came down and got two easy baskets before I could call timeout.”
The Aggies broke out to an 11-4 lead – matching the biggest deficit UConn has faced this season – before Mosqueda-Lewis made her presence known.
Mosqueda-Lewis fed Dolson for an easy basket to start a 26-6 UConn run. Hartley scored twice off Jefferson’s long passes, Mosqueda-Lewis hit a couple 3s and showed what she could do inside when she took an inbound pass and drove the baseline for a left-handed layup.
Mosqueda-Lewis has overcome an injury to each elbow and a case of mononucleosis to lead the Huskies back to the Final Four.
“These three weekends can make you forget all the trials and tribulations you went through the previous four months,” Auriemma said. “I was ecstatic that she was MVP of this tournament, with how well she played. I’m really thrilled for her.”