PORTLAND, Ore. -- Back in the fall, UConn coach Geno Auriemma thought it would've been a "miracle" for his team to make a deep March run.

A slew of injuries hampered the Huskies for a third straight season. They hardly looked like a Final Four team when they lost three games in the first month and took more recent hits in nonconference play with losses to South Carolina and Notre Dame. But they still had one player who could transcend all else -- Paige Bueckers -- and a cast of supporting characters who came through to put UConn back in the Final Four like it never left.


Behind Bueckers' 28 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, the third-seeded Huskies defeated 1-seed USC 80-73 in the Portland 3 regional final on Monday to secure the program's 23rd Final Four appearance and 15th in the past 16 women's NCAA tournaments. They will face the 1-seed Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday for a spot in the national title game.

The 11-time national champion Huskies aren't used to being the underdogs; more often than not over the past three decades, they were considered a shoo-in to make the Final Four.

UConn led for 25:52 in the regional final, going ahead by as many as 12 points in the third quarter. Though USC tied the game with 7:32 to play, the Huskies held firm, answering with a 17-5 run that largely kept the Trojans at bay.

Bueckers roared back to score nine points in the final 5:06 and convert four of the last five field goals for the Huskies.

USC, whose 29 wins were its most in a season since 1985-86, concludes its deepest tournament run since 1994 but with an incredibly bright future with presumptive freshman of the year JuJu Watkins leading the way. Watkins scored 29 points on Monday, making her the all-time leading freshman scorer in Division I history with 920 points. She didn't really get going until the fourth quarter, when she scored 13 points alone and tried to lift USC to a comeback.


The Huskies next face another generational talent in Iowa's Caitlin Clark, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft.

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