UConn advanced to the Sweet 16 after outdueling UCF on Monday. With the 52-47 win, the Huskies reach their NCAA record 28th consecutive Sweet 16.
In the next round, the Huskies will face Indiana, which edged Princeton in its own Round of 32 contest, at 2 p.m. ET Saturday with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.
UConn eked out the win despite scoring the fewest points in an NCAA Tournament victory in program history. The Huskies shot a season-low 29.2 percent from the field, while UCF shot 34.8 percent.
The Knights jumped out to an eight-point lead early. UConn responded and held a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Knights pulled within three with less than a minute to go.
“Given the kind of season we’ve had, I thought I’d pretty much seen it all,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “But this was a rather new experience for me. It was what we thought it would be. It was going to be really difficult. It was going to be really ugly looking, and it was.
“And we could have just as easily let that game get away from us and we didn’t. There’s something to be said for that, that you can win a game that you probably would look back and say, ‘I’m not sure how we won that game, but we did.’”
The Huskies were just 2-of-12 on layup attempts, which left the door open for UCF. The Knights, though, struggled with free-throw shooting, going 10-for-20.
Foul trouble was also a factor, as three players — Olivia Nelson-Ododoa and Aaliyah Edwards from UConn and Alisha Lewis from UCF — fouled out before the end of the night. Two other UCF players committed four fouls, including UCF’s Brittney Smith, who had 11 points and five rebounds. Diamond Battles led the Knights with 12 points.
UConn’s Azzi Fudd led all scorers with 16 points, three steals and two blocks, while her teammate Christyn Williams added 12 points.
“We just tried to throw the first punch and keep punching them,” Williams said. “We didn’t have our best game today, but I’m really proud of our team. We grinded it out. It was very ugly, but we got the dub and that’s all that matters.”
Fudd said after the game that the “adversity we faced off the court” in addition to the Huskies’ tough schedule during the season helped them triumph on Monday. She also praised the sold-out crowd of 10,167 fans at Gampel Pavilion.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” said Fudd. “That’s definitely something I’ve never experienced to this kind of level. That made the game a lot of fun. I think that also helped with our momentum.”
Kayla Jones led all scorers with 18 points and five rebounds as Raina Perez and Diamond Johnson contributed 15 points apiece to lead the Wolfpack over the Wildcats.
Senior Naz Hillmon recorded her 50th career double-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five steals, while Leigha Brown added 20 points to help the Wolverines advance past Villanova and to the Sweet 16.
Four Irish players scored in double digits, including three with at least 20 points, to topple Oklahoma. Notre Dame senior Dara Mabrey led all scorers with 29 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Tennessee narrowly escaped Belmont after Bruins guard Destinee Wells broke out for 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. The Volunteers were led by Alexus Dye, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Ohio State took care of business behind a 23-point, eight-assist performance from Jacy Sheldon to upset the Tigers. LSU guard Khayla Pointer wasn’t going to go down without a fight, contributing 32 points and four assists in the loss.
Arizona’s attempt to reach back-to-back title games is over. The Tar Heels were led by Kennedy Todd-Williams, who had 19 points and seven rebounds; Alyssa Utsby added 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
The Sweet 16 field features four teams each from the ACC and the Big Ten. The SEC, Big 12 and Big East each have two teams remaining. Stanford is the lone Pac-12 team left, while the Summit League has South Dakota in the tournament’s third round.