ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Getting to the Final Four never gets old for Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 27 points to help UConn beat Dayton 91-70 on Monday night to advance to the national semifinals for an eighth straight season.
“I love going to the Final Four. I don’t care how many times it is, what the total number is. I love it for the fact that some of my players have never been there,” Auriemma said.
“When you get a chance to go, you feel like you did something pretty significant. We did it over and over again. Some kids don’t get to go once.”
Now the Huskies stand two wins away from a third straight national championship. They accomplished that same feat from 2002-04.
Unlike the first three games of the tournament when UConn won by an average of nearly 48 points, the Huskies got all they could handle from the seventh-seeded Flyers, who weren’t intimidated by the top seed for the game’s first 20 minutes.
“When we’re challenged, sometimes that’s when we’re at our best, and that’s what we talked about in the locker room and I couldn’t be prouder of them and happier for them … especially tonight against a great, great team,” Auriemma said. “Boy, I’m glad we don’t have to play them again.”
Trailing at the half for the first time in two seasons, UConn scored the first nine points of the second half during a 15-3 run to take a 58-47 lead with 13:56 left.
A little more than a minute later, Mosqueda-Lewis hit her fifth 3-pointer of the game giving her 393 in her career to break the NCAA record for 3s. That made it 62-49.
Dayton (28-7) couldn’t get within seven the rest of the way thanks in a big part to Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished the game with seven 3-pointers.
“It eases my mind a lot,” Mosqueda-Lewis said of getting the record. “Now I only have one thing to worry about — a national championship.”
Breanna Stewart added 23 points and 16 rebounds while Morgan Tuck had 23 points for the Huskies (36-1). Stewart was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the region.
UConn will play Maryland in the national semifinals Sunday night.
Auriemma was concerned before the game about Dayton’s wide-open style which features multiple players on the court who can hit 3s.
The Flyers went shot for shot with the Huskies for the first 20 minutes with neither team able to get more than a five-point lead.
Dayton made its first four 3-pointers and hit seven of the first 10 shots from behind the arc to put the pressure on the Huskies. UConn got a little breathing room going up 43-38 with just over 3 minutes left in the half and looked poised to take control.
But the Flyers didn’t wilt. They scored the final six points before break to go into the locker room up 44-43. That brought the strong contingent of Dayton fans to their feet as they serenaded their team with a loud ovation as they ran into the locker room.
“Really proud of our guys, we competed, weren’t intimidated,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. “They are the best team in the country, bar none. … For a long time we hung around and hung around. I couldn’t be more proud, this was a great day.”
This was the first time since the Big East final in 2013 that the Huskies trailed at the half. They weren’t rattled.
The loss ended the seventh-seeded Flyers’ improbable run. They reached the regional final for the first time in school history after beating Kentucky in the second round and Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Ally Malott scored 14 points, all in the first half, to lead Dayton.
Dayton: Coach Jim Jabir fell to 0-10 in his career against the Huskies. He was winless in eight games while coaching at Providence from 1996-2002. The Friars lost by an average of 43 points, including a 78-point defeat in 1998. He also lost as coach of the Flyers four years ago. … Dayton was the fourth No. 7 seed to advance to the regional finals since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. Only Minnesota in 2004 made it to the Final Four.
UConn: Mosqueda-Lewis broke the 3-point mark held by Laurie Koehn of Kansas State and Heather Butler of UT-Martin. They both hit 392. … The 44 points at the break were the most a UConn opponent had scored against them in the first half since DePaul had 47 in 2008.
TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT: As is tradition for the Huskies, they didn’t cut down the nets after beating Dayton. Auriemma couldn’t remember when that started, but said it wasn’t a conscious thing.
“We have the option of cutting the nets down, but we’d rather save that special thing for if we get the chance to cut the net down one time at the end of the year,” said Mosqueda-Lewis, who along with her teammates were wearing shirts that said ‘Cut the Net’. We’d rather cut it down for a national championship, something we’d save and do one time if we could.”
TALE OF TWO HALVES: Dayton shot 51 percent (18 for 35) in the first half and just 37 percent (10 for 27) in the second.
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