BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A'dia Mathies has helped turn Kentucky into a contender during her career. The senior just couldn’t get the Wildcats over the hump to their first Final Four.
She scored 14 points in Kentucky’s 83-53 loss to Connecticut on Monday night in the Bridgeport regional final. It was the second straight season that the Wildcats lost to the Huskies with a national semifinal berth on the line.
‘‘It’s been a great turnaround,’’ Mathies said. ‘‘I'm glad I can leave here and look back and know that Kentucky is a national powerhouse now.’’
The Wildcats have made the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons and reached the regional finals in three of those years falling short each time.
Mathies, along with fellow senior Brittany Henderson, finished as the winningest class in school history with 111 victories.
‘‘It looks a lot different when she’s walking out the door than when she was walking in the door,’’ Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. ‘‘I hate how we performed the way we did and sent her out this way. I hope the contribution she made and impact she made doesn’t get lost in a real tough 40 minutes for us.’’
Kentucky led 23-22 with 9 minutes left in the first half before UConn turned up its defense and turned away the Wildcats, who missed 13 of 14 shots during UConn’s 26-3 game-changing run.
While UConn was playing lockdown defense, Breanna Stewart was dominating on the offensive end. The 6-foot-4 star, who was the national high school player of the year last season, scored nine points and had a vicious two-handed block during that closing burst.
After Jelleah Sidney’s 3-pointer, Stewart calmly converted a three-point play on the other end. UConn led 48-26 at the half.
Kentucky couldn’t get within 20 in the second half.
‘‘We’re either right on point, we do everything right or we get a little bit off kilter and lose our composure a little bit,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ‘‘Once we got into our rhythm and our tempo, we just played good basketball.’’
The loudest cheer of the night from the sellout crowd of nearly 8,600 came when the video board showed highlights of Louisville’s upset victory over Baylor on Sunday night.
UConn’s only losses this season came to Baylor and three times to Notre Dame.
Stewart didn’t play well in most of those losses, but really has stepped her game up over the past few weeks. After struggling through the middle part of the season, the heralded first-year player has averaged 16.4 points since the start of the Big East tournament.
It’s been an unusual season for UConn, which for the first time in 19 years didn’t win either the Big East regular season or tournament title. Now the Huskies are two wins away from an eighth national championship.
This was the 19th time in the past 23 seasons that UConn had reached the regional final. They have made the Final Four 14 times overall, including the last six.
‘‘I don’t know more things in sports that are more impressive,’’ said Mitchell of UConn’s streak. ‘‘They have talented players who are extremely well coached and work extremely hard.’’
None of the regional final games during this current run have been close with only Rutgers coming within 10 in 2008. UConn’s lead ballooned to 36 points in the second half of this game. When the final buzzer sounded Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis jumped into the arms of Stewart to celebrate.
Auriemma got a gritty effort out of junior center Stefanie Dolson, who has a stress fracture in her right ankle and an injured left foot as well. She wore a brace on her left leg and a compression sock on her right one. While she only scored two points, she had 11 rebounds and four assists.
‘‘She might have been leading rebounder in whole tournament,’’ Auriemma said. ‘‘She’s grownup and changed her mindset. What I most admired about her this tournament was every time she was on the bench she kept looking at me why am I out. That for somebody who is hurting that much who didn’t practice yesterday and walked through shootaround that epitomizes the spirit we have right now on this team.’’
The Huskies have won 43 of their past 44 NCAA games in the state of Connecticut, including going 9-1 in Bridgeport. The lone blemish came against Duke in 2006 in the regional final.
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