The no. 1 seed UConn Huskies overcame a halftime deficit for the first time this season to defeat no. 7 seed Dayton 91-70 to advance to the Final Four.
UConn senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 27 points including seven made 3-point field goals that made her the NCAA leader in all-time made 3-point field goals.
“It makes it more special just because of the atmosphere of the game and what this game meant for our team and making it to the Final Four,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “More than anything I’m just proud of the way my teammates were able to come back from trailing at half facing something that we haven’t face yet this year and being able to band together and overcome it.”
The Huskies will head to the Final Four for the eighth straight season and the sixteenth time in program history.
Senior forward Ally Malott was the leading scorer for Dayton with 14 points.
The game started out as a back and forth affair as two fast paced teams battled to gain control in the early going. Led by six points from Malott and five from Andrea Hoover, Dayton found themselves in a game tied at 13 after five minutes.
Dayton continued to gain confidence as the half went on as they answered every punch from Connecticut. When a pair of 3-pointers from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis gave UConn a 25-22 lead, Dayton’s Kelley Austria responded with a 3-pointer of her own to tie the game.
When a pair of Breanna Stewart free throws gave UConn a 43-38 lead with 3:15 to go in the half, their largest lead of the half, Dayton once again responded.
Dayton went on a 6-0 run to end the half with a 44-43 lead and a shift in the momentum as they headed into the break, clinging on to upset hopes.
Dayton shot 51 percent in the first half from the field, including 7-for-10 from 3-point range, which allowed them to stay with UConn for an entire half. The seven seed continued to play with confidence after knocking off both Kentucky and Louisville to set up their biggest test of the season.
“We talked about how we can’t let the name on the jersey effect our mental aspect of the game,” Malott said. “I think we all did a good job of not backing down and just going in and doing what we do. I think we did a good job of that in the first half.”
As UConn headed into halftime trailing, they embraced the opportunity to avoid becoming Dayton’s latest upset victims. Stewart, who finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks wanted to help set the tone in the second half.
“You want to make sure you continue to stay confident as a team,” Stewart said. “We really wanted to get on a run. We hadn’t had a chance to get on a run in the first half and we did that in the second half.”
To start the second half, UConn clearly came out energized. A hook shot from Breanna Stewart gave UConn a 45-44 lead and they never looked back. A pair of layups from Morgan Tuck and a 3-pointer from Mosqueda-Lewis capped off a 9-0 run.
Dayton tried to hang around in the second half but shots that were falling in the first half were no longer dropping. When Mosqueda-Lewis hit her fifth 3-pointer of the game, it not only set the NCAA record it gave the Huskies a 62-49 lead and all the momentum.
Although Dayton went cold in the second half, shooting just 37 percent in the half while being outscored 48-26, they gained the respect of UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.
“I can’t say enough great things about the kids from Dayton and they way they competed tonight,” Auriemma said. “We knew going in this was going to be really difficult and nothing that they did really surprised us. That’s probably one of the best teams we’ve played in the last five years.”
Mosqueda-Lewis also moved into fifth place on UConn’s all time scoring list with a 2159 career after passing Rebecca Lobo (2133 points), Kara Wolters (2141) and Diana Turasi (2156).