ALBANY, N.Y. — Before Connecticut faced South Carolina on Monday, with the possibility that the Huskies could be denied a chance at a national championship for a second consecutive season…
Expectations for his program are so high, and losses are so rare and bitter, he said with a laugh, “I’ll probably have to move from my house” and “change where I go to the store, all that stuff.”
There will be no need to call the moving van.
UConn routed South Carolina, the defending national champion, 94-65, at the Times-Union Center in the final of the Albany Region of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, decisively making 12 of 20 shots from 3-point range. Point guard Crystal Dangerfield (21 points) hit all five of her 3-point attempts in the first half as the Huskies staggered the Gamecocks with nearly flawless shooting from the perimeter.
Rare is the team that has scorers at all five positions. Gabby Williams, UConn’s most complete player, displayed her usual resourcefulness inside with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, and all five starters scored in double-digits.
The Huskies (36-0) advanced to the Final Four for the 11th consecutive season and will begin their quest for a 12th national title — and fifth in six seasons — in the national semifinals Friday against Notre Dame in Columbus, Ohio.
The potential for a riveting matchup looms over the title game Sunday, as UConn could face Mississippi State, which ended the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak on a shot by Morgan William late in overtime in a 2017 Final Four game. Mississippi State will face Louisville in the 2018 semifinals.
“Redemption, I don’t know if it’s the word, but I think we definitely have something to prove, not only to the rest of the world, but to ourselves as well,” UConn’s Williams said.
UConn had defeated South Carolina (29-7) four times in the past four seasons, including an 83-58 rout on Feb. 1 on the Gamecocks’ home court. In that game, A’ja Wilson, South Carolina’s 6-foot-5 forward and the consensus national player of the year, missed 14 of her 18 shots, some of them unobstructed attempts, others hindered by Williams.
At 5-11, Williams is 6 inches shorter than Wilson but she is a vaulting leaper who finished fifth in the high jump at the 2012 Olympic track and field trials while in high school.
“It’s always a difficult thing guarding A’ja, especially with the height difference,” Williams said. “But I have the advantage of being quicker than her, so as long as I just keep her out of the paint, it is easier to handle her.”
Given the usual reliability of UConn’s defense, Auriemma’s main concern Monday was the Huskies’ offense: Could it make enough shots?
The answer was an emphatic yes. UConn went 5 for 6 from 3-point range in the first quarter and took an insurmountable 30-12 lead. One shot turned into a 4-point play for Katie Lou Samuelson (who finished with 17 points) after she was fouled beyond the arc. Another 3-pointer came on a feathery jumper by Dangerfield as time expired.
It was a deficit from which South Carolina could not recover. Wilson finished with 27 points and eight rebounds in a restorative but mostly inconsequential performance. By halftime, the Huskies had hit 9 of 10 shots from beyond the arc to extend their lead to 54-33.
“Coach said to be aggressive, and my teammates were finding me and I was confident and it went in,” Dangerfield said. “I was shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it.”
On Sunday, the often-sarcastic Auriemma whispered to Dangerfield during a news conference, telling her that if she got 10 steals against South Carolina, she would rank only fourth in the starting lineup.
“It’s my daily dose of getting on someone’s nerves,” Auriemma said. “I can’t go more than an hour without doing that.”
A season ago, as a freshman, Dangerfield played erratically. But she was impeccable on Monday in the biggest game of the season. And, for the moment anyway, Auriemma was spared having to walk around in a funny nose and glasses disguise.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.