BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Paige Bueckers will have a Minnesota homecoming after scoring 15 of her 27 points in two overtimes, leading UConn over North Carolina State 91-87 to reach the Final Four in Minneapolis.
The Huskies, who had been 0-for-5 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, will face top seed Stanford on Friday night in the national semifinals in Minneapolis.
Bueckers, who grew up 10 miles outside Minneapolis, scored the first five points in the second overtime to lift the Huskies (29-5).
“Two days ago I said, ‘Win or go home’, but we won and I’m still going home,” Bueckers said. “This is crazy. I’m just so excited no matter the location, no matter where it is.”
The sensational sophomore, who missed two months this season with a knee injury, once again looked like the player who was the AP Player of the Year in 2021. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Region.
“Thank God Paige came back, because she just gives everybody so much confidence and then everybody just kind of played and everybody took turns making plays,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was just an amazing basketball game and it was a great showcase for our sport.”
With N.C. State within 86-84 in the second OT, Christyn Williams hit the second of two free throws and then a layup with 21 seconds left to give UConn a 89-85 lead.
Jakia Brown-Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds in the first overtime to tie the game, then made a layup to get the Wolfpack within two, but Williams converted a layup off the inbounds to seal the win.
UConn had lost senior center Dorka Juhasz to a forearm injury earlier in the game.
“This team has been through so much and it’s only made us stronger," Bueckers said. "And if we see one of our sisters go down, we’re going to do it for her. We all love each other, we’re all so close. It just signifies what we’ve been through all year. Whole bunch of adversity, highs and lows, ups and downs. We stayed composed and we stayed together.”
Brown-Turner finished with 20 points for N.C. State (32-4).
Both teams had chances to win in the final 30 seconds of regulation. UConn's Olivia Nelson-Ododa was fouled with 28 seconds left and missed both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Diamond Johnson dribbled down the clock and drove before passing it back out to Kai Crutchfield, who was way off on a deep 3-pointer from the wing.
N.C. State was trying to reach the national semifinals for the second time in school history. The Wolfpack made it that far in 1998, beating the Huskies in the Elite Eight that season to advance. None of the current roster was even alive then.
Crutchfield, Raina Perez and Kayla Jones all came back this year using their extra COVID-19 season that was granted by the NCAA to try and lift the Wolfpack to new heights. They succeeded, advancing farther than the team had in 24 years.
The Huskies dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues all season and had their most losses since 2012, including their first conference defeat in nine years and their first loss to an unranked team since 2012.
Things have been looking up for UConn since the team started getting healthy, starting with Bueckers.
This was the first double-OT game in women's NCAA Tournament history in the regional final or later.