Bridgeport, CT -- UConn's 22nd straight NCAA Tournament win was more of what you would expect when two highly ranked teams meet in March. The final score was not indicative of how well the Texas Longhorns played against a team that had not won a game by less than 46 prior to the Bridgeport Regional Final.
The Huskies are one of the last four teams standing for the ninth consecutive year after knocking off the Longhorns, 86-65. UConn's 22nd NCAA Tournament win is the most in a row all-time, breaking the record previously held by Tennessee from 1996-99.
Breanna Stewart lead the way once again with 21 points and 13 rebounds, and was named the Bridgeport Region's Most Outstanding Player. Stewart recorded her eighth career NCAA Tournament double-double.
She is now tied for first in program history with Maya Moore, who also had eight career double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament. Stewart's teammate, Morgan Tuck, lead all scorers with 22 points.
"This game is the most difficult game to win," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "I say that every time we're in this game, and it's true, and it showed tonight. You're playing against a really good team, that really tested us at both ends of the floor, and forced our best players to play great."
Ariel Atkins tried to keep her team in it, hitting tough shot after tough shot. Atkins, and her teammate Lashann Higgs finished with a team-high 19 points each.
UConn tried to pull away early on in this one, but was unable to get any real separation from Texas through the first ten minutes. The Longhorns seemed to have answers, and were able to fight back from an early 11-point deficit, trailing only by five after the first.
As we have seen many times this season, teams have been able to hang with the three-time defending National Champions for ten minutes, but it is that second quarter where the Huskies are able to distance themselves.
"I think they do a great job of capitalizing on their runs, and we talked about that," Texas center Imani Boyette said. "I think it was a spurt in the second quarter when we kind of lost our game plan, and we let them extend their run. We were answering in the first quarter.
"It is definitely important when you play UConn to not necessarily answer in terms of offensively, but lock down defensively."
UConn scored on their first three possessions of the second quarter, pushing their lead to nine. Texas continued to battle, and throw in a more than three minute scoring drought for the Huskies, and one might think the Longhorns would be able to grab the lead.
UConn's length bothered Texas throughout, as the Huskies never relinquished the lead despite struggling to score in the middle of the second. A Stewart triple broke the drought, and the flood gates then opened.
Tuck picked up her second foul with just under seven minutes left in the first half, and it was Napheesa Collier who picked up the slack, scoring seven points and snatching four rebounds in the quarter.
"(Napheesa) is young, and she knows one thing," Auriemma said. "If we shoot it, I want to go offensive rebound. If there's a lane open, I want to drive it to the rim. Those are two things she knows she can do, and Napheesa did exactly what I would expect her to do."
Collier attacked the offensive glass for a UConn team that desperately needed those second chance points, sparking a 16-6 run that would give the Huskies a 15-point lead at the break.
Right out of halftime, UConn again tried to pull away, hitting back-to-back threes on their first two possessions, but the Longhorns would respond. Texas got back-to-back threes from McCarty and Empress Davenport, getting the deficit back to 15.
The Longhorns were never able to get within 12, and faced a 19-point deficit to start the final quarter. Texas never conceded the game, continuing to pressure the basketball and play hard despite never being able to get the lead close to single-digits.
"Phenomenal performance on their part," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "I felt like we tried to give them as many different looks as we could, but they have an answer for just about everything that you give them. I cant say enough about how proud i am of our basketball team. I'm extremely proud of how we competed."
The Huskies were never really threatened down the stretch, en route to their 73rd straight win.
UConn was held an abnormally low two fast-break points, to which Stewart said after the game that adjusting to a slower pace was not that difficult.
"Coach stressed the importance of playing at our tempo," Stewart said. "The fact that (Texas) was really pushing the tempo, really trying to run up and down, we wanted to make sure that we kind of controlled the ball and took our time. They did a great job getting back in transition, and they didn't let us get any run-outs."
The Huskies will face the winner of the Dallas Regional Final between top-seed Baylor and second-seeded Oregon State.