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Moore nets key 3 as UConn advances to Final Four

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Rutgers was in Maya Moore's face all night. Forget open shots and huge point totals -- Connecticut's freshman phenom was having trouble simply getting the ball.

However, one well-timed screen and one defensive lapse was all Moore needed to take care of the Huskies' nagging postseason drought.

Final Four staple UConn is headed back to the biggest stage in women's college basketball, thanks to Moore's tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than 3 minutes left that propelled the top-seeded Huskies past No. 2-seeded Rutgers 66-56 on Tuesday night in the Greensboro Regional championship.

Renee Montgomery and Ketia Swanier each scored 15 points to lead the Huskies (36-1), who rallied from a 14-point deficit against their Big East rivals to win their 15th straight game and reach their ninth Final Four -- but first since winning the 2004 national championship.

"One more Final Four to me doesn't change my life one bit," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But the look on their faces and the emotion that was in their faces and in that locker room, because it's their first opportunity to do something like this, that's what makes you coach year after year after year, just to be able to experience that."

Moore, the Big East's player of the year as a newcomer, tied a season-low with seven points in just her second single-digit performance of the season. But her final basket couldn't have come at a better time.

"I was being face-guarded all night, and I've never been face-guarded the whole night by such an athletic team," Moore said. "We just ran our offense there towards the end. ... What was really the key was, we started screening. For 80 percent of the game, we were setting horrible screens, and we weren't helping each other get open."

With the game tied at 49-all, Moore ran off of Tina Charles' screen on two-time Big East defensive player of the year Essence Carson at the top of the key, pulled up and swished the 3 that put UConn ahead to stay with 2:55 left.

"It looked to me like [Carson] slipped," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "[Carson] normally would have been on her tail. But give Maya credit. She did something that some of our young people playing today had a little problem doing. ... They might not score 20 points, but when she stuck that dagger in, she rejuvenated everybody else."

The Huskies then were perfect on 14 free-throws in the final 2-plus minutes to end their three-year Final Four hiatus. No. 1 overall seed UConn will face Stanford, the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional, in a national semifinal April 6; the Huskies beat the Cardinal 66-54 in the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands in November.

"As much as everybody thought, 'Yeah, you're the best team in the tournament. It's your tournament, the only way you can lose is if you beat yourself,' I just never bought into that," Auriemma said. "I knew how hard it was going to be. ... They deserve every single thing that's happened to them, and I've never been happier for a group of guys, really."

Matee Ajavon scored 18 points on 8-of-23 shooting to lead Rutgers (27-7), the defending Greensboro Regional champion which was denied its second consecutive Final Four berth.

Carson finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds but was held scoreless in the second half, and Kia Vaughn added 11 points for the Scarlet Knights, who gave UConn its only loss of the season two months ago before the Huskies beat them by 20 points in the regular-season finale.

This time, two of the Huskies' highest-profile players struggled on the offensive end for much of the night, but came through when it counted most. Moore had trouble getting touches while being swarmed by defenders Brittany Ray and Heather Zurich and managed just seven shots, making three.

"I didn't really take a lot of shots, but my teammates stepped up and hit open shots," Moore said.

Namely, Montgomery. After scoring at least 20 points in each of the teams' two previous meetings, she was just 4-of-14 from the field and made only one of her nine attempts from behind the arc. But twice in the second half she knocked down tying jumpers, including one with 7 1/2 minutes left that highlighted the 15-5 run that gave UConn its first lead.

"Every time I missed it -- which was almost every time I shot it -- the whole team and all the coaches were just like, 'That's a good shot. Stay with it,'" Montgomery said. "I think that's why I didn't really hesitate when I was about to shoot it the next time, because everyone was happy with the shots I was taking, and I was open. I just could not get one to fall."

Kaili McLaren, whose layup less than a minute later put the Huskies ahead for the first time, finished with 10 points, and Charles added 12 rebounds.

Rutgers raced out to a huge, early lead when Epiphanny Prince's free throws with about 8 minutes left capped the 17-5 run that made it 25-11, but the Scarlet Knights largely did it with their trademark tough defense: They held the Huskies to two baskets during an 8-minute stretch, and during that span they forced UConn into 2-of-9 shooting and generated six turnovers with their half-court trap.

"We just worked hard," Carson said. "In the first half, we were attacking the boards a lot, making sure they were one-and-done. ... [But] any great team is going to do their best to fight back."

And UConn did. The Huskies made it a game again, erasing that deficit with a 19-5 run that bridged halftime. They outscored Rutgers 12-3 during the final 4½ minutes of the half to pull to 32-27 at the break -- their season-low for scoring in a first half.

Montgomery's first tying jumper came with 18½ minutes left, producing the first tie since it was scoreless.

"We're not going to quit," Moore said. "If there's still time on the clock, we still have a chance."