UConn Huskies dethrone defending national champion Stanford, advance to first title game since 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- No. 2 seed UConn defeated No. 1 seed and defending national champion Stanford 63-58 on Friday in the NCAA women's basketball tournament national semifinals to advance to the program's first national title game since 2016.

The Huskies (30-5) will take on 1-seed South Carolina (34-2) for the championship Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Gamecocks have been the top-ranked team all season. They are 2-9 against UConn all time but have won two of the past three meetings, including a 73-57 win on Nov. 22 in the Bahamas.

UConn is 11-0 in the national title game in program history. The Huskies, whose last championship came in 2016, are looking to avoid their longest streak without a title since they won their first in 1995.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma's squad, which had the program's most regular-season losses since 2004-05 as it weathered the storm of extended midseason injuries to Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, could become the first team since Baylor in 2005 to take down three No. 1 seeds on its way to winning the national title.

"Coming in, I don't think we're the best team there," Auriemma said. "I don't think we can win even if we play our A game. We need help. We need Stanford to not play their best game. We need them to miss shots they normally make. ... Fortunately for us, Stanford didn't have their best stuff, and we made a couple big plays, and by some unknown miracle, we're playing Sunday night."

Stanford entered the contest hoping to keep alive its goal of becoming the fourth team in NCAA tournament history to repeat as national champion, joining USC, UConn and Tennessee.

UConn led for 36:44, but Stanford cut an eight-point Huskies' advantage with 1:26 remaining to two twice in the final 25 seconds. Huskies senior Christyn Williams hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left, and sophomore Aaliyah Edwards added one with four seconds left to seal the win.

The contest featured a matchup between the two winningest coaches in the sport -- Auriemma and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer have combined 2,306 wins -- and was the fifth national semifinal matchup between the programs.

Bueckers and redshirt senior Evina Westbrook led the Huskies with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Stanford junior Haley Jones and sophomore Cameron Brink combined for 35 of the Cardinal's 58 points.

UConn's defense and rebounding didn't make much easy for the typically poised Cardinal. The Huskies controlled the glass, outrebounding Stanford by nine, and held Stanford to 4-for-23 shooting on 3s. Even when they did get open looks, the Cardinal made just six of 20 uncontested jump shots.

At times, Stanford looked aimless on offense, a glaring reminder of the absence of former point guard Kiana Williams, who led the Cardinal to their title last season before getting drafted into the WNBA.

"A lot of times in I think NCAA play, it's really, I want to say guard play [makes a difference]," VanDerveer said. "I give so much credit to Lacie [Hull] for what she did for us and Anna Wilson, who never really played point for us, to be able to step up and do what they did, but tonight we needed more. ... A lot of that is just, I think, the experience of running a team, and I think it caught up with us tonight."

UConn was called for nearly twice the number of fouls as Stanford in the first half; Edwards and Fudd played just eight and 11 minutes, respectively, in that span after each picked up two fouls. Then senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the Huskies' only big remaining after graduate Dorka Juhasz was lost to a season-ending wrist injury in the Elite Eight, was forced to play through her own pair of fouls. But Stanford failed to take advantage, holding the lead for just 34 seconds during the first 20 minutes and trailing by one at the half.

UConn extended its edge to eight early in the fourth quarter off a Williams 3 and Nelson-Ododa's trip to the line, and the Huskies led by eight again with 1:26 to play off a pair of Edwards' free throws.

Stanford made just enough plays and took advantage of some UConn turnovers down the stretch to make things close, and Brink's layup pulled the Cardinal within two with 18.4 on the clock before Williams' free throws sealed the game.

ESPN's Mechelle Voepel contributed to this report.