Hot-handed Crystal Dangerfield leads Huskies into 11th straight Final Four

UConn cruises against South Carolina, onto 11th straight Final Four (1:17)

Crystal Dangerfield scores 19 of her 21 points in the first half while Gabby Williams leads the Huskies with 23 points in a 94-65 victory against the Gamecocks. (1:17)

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Crystal Dangerfield hit her fourth 3-pointer of the first half against South Carolina in Monday's regional final, then looked at the UConn bench with a broad smile and a look of "Isn't this great?"

The sophomore point guard was. And UConn was, especially for those first 20 minutes. With Dangerfield leading the way, the Huskies shot 68 percent from the field and hit nine 3-pointers in the first half to carry UConn past defending NCAA champion South Carolina 94-65 and into the Final Four for a record 11th straight year.

"It may have looked like shock, but I was just excited," Dangerfield said. "We were going on a run at that point and it just felt really good."

The run put UConn up 17-8 to open the game. The Huskies extended it to 30-12 after one quarter and 54-33 at halftime. After a quiet six-point performance Saturday against Duke in the Sweet 16 -- and an even quieter news conference Sunday when she was the only Huskies starter who wasn't asked even a single question -- Dangerfield looked downright giddy. "She was having fun with that. To see her crack a smile and look over at the bench, it gave energy to the rest of us," said UConn's Gabby Williams, who added that Dangerfield is "normally serious on the court."

Dangerfield scored a combined 15 points in the Huskies' first three tournament games. She had 19 in the first half against South Carolina, making all five of her 3-point attempts.

"Coach pulled me aside and told me to get back to what I was doing earlier in the year," said Dangerfield, who finished the game with 21 points, six assists and just one turnover. "Tonight, my teammates were able to find me when I was open and I was able to knock those shots down early."

The fact that she was open was a pick-your-poison decision for South Carolina. Dangerfield had been UConn's lowest-scoring regular all season and in the NCAA tournament, so the strategy wasn't ill-conceived. But like most attempts at slowing down the Huskies, it didn't work.

"She made wide-open shots. They were practice shots," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "Certainly, we didn't do a good job of staying close to her. We kind of dug ourselves a hole by helping off her too much."

The help didn't fare well, either. Williams finished with a team-high 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Katie Lou Samuelson had 17 points, making 4 of 6 of her 3-pointers. Napheesa Collier was 7-of-11 from the floor and finished with 16 points. Kia Nurse -- who along with fellow senior Williams is 148-2 in her UConn career -- contributed 11.

The Huskies made 12 of 20 3-pointers for the game (9 of 10 in the first half) and shot 58.7 percent overall after cooling off a bit in the second half, but still expanded the lead. South Carolina never found an answer defensively.

Led by three-time All-American A'ja Wilson and her 27 points and eight rebounds, South Carolina played well offensively after a slow start. The Gamecocks shot 50 percent from the field and cut their turnovers down to 13 after committing 26 on Saturday against Buffalo. But it wasn't good enough.

"We could have tried everything, but they were shooting it well, great from the 3-point line," Wilson said. "I've had a blessing to compete in the NCAA and make the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight and win a national championship. I've had a great four years at South Carolina. I wouldn't change anything."

In Columbus at the Final Four, UConn will play Notre Dame in the national semifinals Friday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). The Huskies beat the Fighting Irish 80-71 earlier this season, UConn's seventh straight win in the series. That game on Dec. 4 in Hartford, Connecticut, might have been the Huskies' toughest of the season. They trailed by 11 in the fourth quarter, and with Williams and Samuelson out of the game, Azurá Stevens -- who wasn't much of a factor in Albany -- had 10 points in the decisive 26-9 fourth quarter.

Stevens' performance is indicative of what this era of UConn basketball has become. The Huskies might not have the likes of a Breanna Stewart or Maya Moore or Diana Taurasi step up in big moments. With this group, it can be anyone.

On Monday, it was Dangerfield and Williams who made sure UConn would get a chance at another national championship.

"The reason we won by so much is that our team played great," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who will be coaching in his record 19th Final Four. "But even if we had not shot the ball as well as we did, the way these two played would have been enough to get us to next weekend. Just individual brilliance on their part and that's what you need at this time of year."