There is a reason the UConn women are what they are. They have a nourishing reservoir of experience, talent and confidence that they tap into when they need it.
They needed it all Sunday. They needed every last drop of sustenance to deal with a fearless Georgetown team intent on engineering the biggest upset in recent NCAA Tournament history.
"When did we discover we might be able to beat UConn? When Tina Charles graduated," Georgetown's Monica McNutt said.
As it turned out, the Huskies also needed a change of pace, something to make them quicker, more instinctive. They needed their coach to make a decision. And once he did, they needed it to work.
Here's the thing: Everyone intends to upend the nation's two-time defending champion. And only Stanford has managed to do it in the last three seasons.
So give credit to Georgetown for its old college try. But over the last 10 minutes of one of its most difficult tests in a long time, it was UConn who took control.
Their defense fueled a furious rally that produced a 68-63 win over the Hoyas in the semifinals of the Philadelphia Regional at Temple University.
"I'd say for the first 38 minutes of the game, I may have thought this might not be our day," Auriemma said.
Down 53-46 with 9:36 to play, Auriemma changed things up by taking center Stefanie Dolson out and putting senior guard Lorin Dixon in.
"I know I shouldn't say this," Hoyas coach Terri Williams-Flournoy saio. "He [Auriemma[ had to take Dolson out. Tia Magee was absolutely killing her."
Dixon provided the flash for a 13-0 run, led offensively by senior Maya Moore and freshman Bria Hartley, that doused Georgetown's competitive fire and a long and heated burn.
"Coach was talking about pushing up the defense," Dixon said. "We went 2-3 and that's something he wanted to get them [Georgetown] going faster. That's what I was basically tying to do, bring energy to the team."
Moore (22 points) scored 10 of UConn's last 13 points to single-handedly lift her team. She added 13 rebounds. Hartley (17) had three three-pointers and six assists.
McNutt led the Hoyas (24-11) with 17 points, making five three-pointers. Tia McGee (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Sugar Rodgers (11) also scored in double-figures.
"Solace? Absolutely not," McNutt said. In case you haven't noticed, our program is on the rise. We are past the point of moral victories. We should be in the Elite 8."
The Huskies (35-1) will play Duke (32-3) Tuesday night in an effort to join their men's team in the Final Four. On Jan. 31, the Huskies blasted the Blue Devils, 87-51, at Gampel Pavilion
With Dixon in the game, the Huskies forced three straight turnovers following a three by Hartley to turn a 53-46 deficit into a 55-53 lead with 6:06 to play. It was the first time all day their experience seemed to take hold.
It was clear that Georgetown was hyped for this game. Not only has Williams-Flournoy built it into an NCAA team, but she has restored the confidence this program hasn't had since the early 1990s.
"We thoroughly believed we were poised to contend and beat UConn," McNutt said.
The anything-is-possible attitude was apparent during the Hoyas pregame press confidence. There was no hesitation in their voices. They knew they had come as close to beating UConn has anyone this season and felt a more consistent offense could make the impossible possible.
The first half was a huge confidence booster. The Huskies took a quick 4-0 lead, but once the Hoyas set their feet things were pretty even.
The lead moved back and forth, changing three times in a frenetic first half. The difference was Georgetown's offense. It shot 43.8 percent from the field, but 7 of 14 from three. And that set the stage for its halftime lead.
Equally important was the way they handled Dolson, whose 24 points in the Big East quarterfinals was the difference .
Dolson scored all seven points in the first half, but she was 3 of 10 from the field, far from her form in Hartford. And ironically, it may have been the reason the UConn was able to win.
'We were definitely quicker," Moore said. "We she comes into the game we know we have a smaller lineup and it forces up to pick up the tempo."
While Georgetown was making its shots, the Huskies were having trouble with theirs. They were 12 of 36 in the first half. Moore led the Huskies with 10 points in the half, but she was 3 of 9.
"I always think that every team we play in the NCAA Tournament is going to make every shot it takes," Auriemma said.
But it didn't turn out that way, even though the Hoyas ended with 10 three-pointers. In the end it was UConn's ability to adjust to the flow that sent it to another Elite 8.
"We hung in there. We never hung our heads," Moore said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun