UConn’s record streak of reaching 14 straight Final Fours ended when third-seeded Ohio State beat the No. 2 seed Huskies 73-61 on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Cotie McMahon scored 23 points and the Buckeyes (28-7) forced UConn (31-6) into 25 turnovers, ending the Huskies’ season before the national semifinals for the first time since 2008. UConn hadn’t been eliminated this early since 2006.
The Buckeyes stopped their own Elite Eight drought. Ohio State hadn’t made a regional final since 1993. The Buckeyes went on to lose in the title game that year.
They’ll play the winner of top seed Virginia Tech and fourth-seeded Tennessee on Monday night in the Seattle 3 Region final with a trip to Dallas at stake.
Ohio State, which had to rally from a double-digit deficit in the first round against James Madison, used full-court pressure to disrupt the Huskies’ offense.
“Our press is what we rely on, and sticking together and talking through it,” said Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon, who had 17 points and went 10-for-10 from the foul line. “We knew UConn was going to be ready for us, so we knew we were going to have to stay consistent throughout the game.”
This has been the most trying year of UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s Hall of Fame career. UConn was beset by injuries and illnesses to both players and coaches, including a torn ACL that sidelined star Paige Bueckers all season. It got so bad the Huskies had to postpone a game when they didn’t have enough scholarship players. They also saw their unbelievable run of 30 years without consecutive losses come to an end.
“We picked the worst day to actually be doing the things that we’ve been struggling with all year long,” Auriemma said in a sideline interview during the game.
Lou Lopez Senechal scored 24 points for the Huskies, Azzi Fudd had 14, and Ohio State transfer Dorka Juhasz finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Huskies led 17-9 before Ohio State started scoring and turning UConn over with its full-court press. The Buckeyes scored the next 17 points, forcing 11 turnovers during that stretch, which spanned the first and second quarters. UConn had eight turnovers to start the second quarter, leaving Auriemma exasperated on the sideline.
McMahon was converting those turnovers into points for the Buckeyes as the freshman finished the half with 18 points — equaling the number of turnovers the Huskies had in the opening 20 minutes. Ohio State led 36-26 at the break.
This was only the sixth time UConn had trailed by double digits at the half in an NCAA Tournament game, according to ESPN. The Huskies lost all of those.
UConn did a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half and cut the deficit to 44-39 on Senechal’s layup with 3:53 left in the third quarter. Ohio State responded and still led by 10 after three quarters.
The Buckeyes didn’t let the Huskies make any sort of run in the fourth quarter. UConn got within nine with 4:30 left, but McMahon had a three-point play to restore the double-digit lead. The Huskies never threatened after that.
Now the Huskies will start their offseason sooner than anytime in the past 17 years.
No. 1 South Carolina rolls
Kamilla Cardoso had 10 points while reigning national champion South Carolina turned in its latest overwhelming defense-and-rebounding-first performance to beat UCLA, 59-43, in the semifinals of the Greenville 1 Region.
Aaliyah Boston had eight points, 14 rebounds and two blocks for the Gamecocks (35-0), the top overall tournament seed. It marked South Carolina’s 41st consecutive victory, securing the program’s sixth trip to the Elite Eight under Dawn Staley.
The Gamecocks will play for their fifth trip to the Final Four in Monday’s regional final against second-seeded Maryland, a 76-59 winner over Notre Dame in the region’s other semifinal.
It wasn’t an easy offensive operation for South Carolina, with UCLA sagging defensively to pack the paint in hopes of negating the Gamecocks’ size advantage behind Boston. But South Carolina dominated the glass from start to finish and used its length to turn every look into a difficult one for the fourth-seeded Bruins (27-10).
The Gamecocks entered the game ranked first in Division I in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and rebounding margin. They did nothing to change that, holding UCLA to 15-for-51 shooting (29.4%) — including 3 for 18 from 3-point range — while finishing with a 42-34 rebounding advantage that narrowed late after they led big.
Charisma Osborne scored 14 points to lead UCLA, which was in the Sweet 16 for the eighth time and first since 2019. The Bruins were trying to reach the regional finals for the first time since 2018 and only the third time in program history while pursuing their first Final Four appearance.
Once the game started, the Bruins tried desperately to close off the paint and dare the Gamecocks to shoot from outside.
But in a sign of what was to come, the Bruins kept missing shots that they needed to position themselves for a stunning upset. Worse, they failed to grab even a few of those misses to keep possessions alive early, with South Carolina going on to finish with a 15-8 edge on the offensive glass.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were able to just keep grinding and relying on their length. They led 25-15 at halftime before finally breaking this open by matching their game-long point total in the third quarter.
That included a couple of way-too-familiar sequences for UCLA coach Cori Close. Twice the Gamecocks managed to lob a pass inside to the 6-foot-7 Cardoso, who used her long arms to reach over 6-foot-2-inch fronting defender Christeen Iwuala and snag the ball for easy under-the-rim finishes in traffic.
Or there was Brea Beal (10 points) using her right hand to tap out a loose rebound over Gabriela Jaquez before securing it, then dumping it immediately inside to Victaria Saxton inside for a soft hook as the lead steadily grew.
It was all the same often-demoralizing sequences that has overwhelmed teams all season, this time coming with the home-state Gamecocks as the main draw here in the new double-regional format.
Maryland ousts Notre Dame
Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers had 18 points apiece as Maryland (28-6) took control in the third quarter to defeat depleted No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 76-59, in the semifinals of the Greenville 1 Regional and move a victory away from a trip to the Final Four.
The Terps will play defending champion South Carolina, the undefeated, top overall seed, on Monday night for a trip to Dallas. The Gamecocks won their 41st straight game in a 59-43 victory over fourth-seeded UCLA in Saturday’s second game at the Greenville 1 Regional.
Chasing a championship didn’t look promising at the end of last season. Coach Brenda Frese had lost 85 percent of her offense a year ago as Maryland went through a roster transition with nine new faces. The group gelled quickly and are among the last teams still standing in March Madness.
“What I felt like a year ago and to where we are today,” recalled Frese, who won an NCAA title 2006 and last reached the Elite Eight in 2015. “Yeah, this one is going to be one I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Miller, the transcendent 6-foot-3 All-American, was asked why she didn’t join the exodus from Maryland after her junior season a year ago.
She reasoned that stay or go, she’d play with new, unfamiliar players. “When you look at it like that, I was like, ‘I’m just going to stay and trust the process.’ And I’m so happy I did,” Miller said.
Miller and Sellers combined for 30 of their 36 points in the final two quarters.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (27-6) played once again without injured leading-scorer Olivia Miles after her knee injury at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament earlier this month.
Miles and guard Dara Mabrey, both starters, were injured spectators for Notre Dame, which hung tight with Maryland for 25 minutes before Miller and Sellers took over.
Miller, the first-team All-American, shook off a poor first half as Maryland gained control. Tied at 44, Lavender Briggs had a 3-pointer and Miller followed with a three-point play as the Terps closed the third quarter on a 13-1 run.
Notre Dame, which fought off Mississippi State on its home floor to advance last week, could not respond.
Maryland used its defensive pressure to break out early, forcing eight turnovers by the Fighting Irish to build a 19-14 lead. But Notre Dame showed its NCAA Tournament resiliency once more with a 13-0 burst to move in front 27-19.
Miller and Brinae Alexander each hit 3-pointers in the final 80 seconds of the half to cut the lead to 32-31.
Things changed in the second half as the Terps and their leading scorers turned up the fire.
“I just felt like they were confident and aggressive and they got really good looks, and they nailed every shot that they took,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey.
Part of Notre Dame’s success was holding Miller in check the first 20 minutes. She was just 1-of-4 shooting with two rebounds and three of her team’s eight turnovers. When Miller got going, Maryland was moving on to where it hadn’t been since 2015.
Sonia Citron led the Fighting Irish with 14 points, their only double-figure scorer.