ALBANY — Crystal Dangerfield scored 19 of her 21 points in the first half, and top-seeded UConn routed No. 2 South Carolina 94-65 on Monday night to reach the Final Four for the 11th consecutive year.
The Albany Regional final featured the past two NCAA champions in a rare occurrence for the women’s tournament. The Huskies (36-0) quickly turned it into a mismatch with stellar 3-point shooting. UConn went right at South Carolina in the opening quarter, hitting nine of its 14 shots — including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc — to go up 30-12.
Katie Lou Samuelson had nine points, including a four-point play, during the first 10 minutes. Dangerfield capped the opening burst with a 3-pointer from the top of the key just before the end of the quarter.
The Huskies stayed hot from behind the arc, connecting on 9 of 10 3-pointers in the half — including a perfect 5 for 5 by Dangerfield. Her last 3 of the second quarter made it 52-31 and delighted a crowd that included former UConn greats Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart, who helped the Huskies to four consecutive national championships. Stewart grew up 2 hours west of Albany.
Gabby Williams scored 23 points, Samuelson finished with 17 and Napheesa Collier had 16 as UConn scored the most points in school history for this round of the NCAA Tournament. Williams was named most outstanding player of the region.
The loss ended the stellar career of South Carolina post A’ja Wilson. The unanimous AP All-American, who grew up a few miles from the Gamecocks’ campus, helped the school win its first national championship last season and guided the team to two Final Fours in her four years. She did all she could to make it a third trip to the national semifinals.
She finished with 27 points for South Carolina (29-7), but it wasn’t nearly enough. Coach Dawn Staley took her star out with just over 3 minutes left in the game and her team down 31 points.
MEETING OF FORMER CHAMPS: This was the first time the previous two national champions met in the NCAAs since 1997 when UConn lost to Tennessee. It had happened twice before that.
STRONG ATTENDANCE: Albany had the best attendance of the four regionals, with over 10,000 fans coming on Friday night for the semifinals and 9,522 showing up Monday night. That two-day total easily eclipsed the 15,949 from 2015 when Albany last hosted the regional.
“The attendance is a result of a lot of hard work by people in the community who are interested in seeing women’s basketball develop to a higher level in Albany,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. “We got fortunate with the addition of Buffalo, it brought a state interest to the mix of teams. We were very fortunate to have the defending national champ playing the perennial national champ in our final.”
Albany will host again next year.
“Having it back-to-back years lays a foundation to build on,” Ensor said. “Good word of mouth from 2015 helped this year. Size of crowds this year will help sell tickets earlier in 2019.”
The top-ranked Huskies will face Notre Dame Friday at 9 p.m.