BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Saniya Chong enteredhaving played 11 games in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 and beyond for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
Her totals were 40 minutes played and six points.
But in a season where the Huskies have needed her the most, the senior guard responded -- again. And UConn is one win away from its record 10th straight Final Four appearance.
Chong scored 16 points, one of four players in double figures, as the top-seeded Huskies held off No. 4 UCLA 86-71 in a NCAA Bridgeport Regional semifinal game before a partisan sellout crowd of 8,830 at Webster Bank Arena.
"I was nervous, anxious, but I knew I had to go out there and calm myself down," Chong said. "We've been here before. I'm just going out there and doing anything possible to help my team. You want to go out there and play like it's your last game here. For me, it could be."
UConn (35-0 and winner of 110 straight) will face No. 10 Oregon herenight for the right to move on to the Final Four in Dallas. Freshman Sabrina Ionescu had 21 points, six rebounds, and seven assists as the Ducks (23-13) put five players in double figures in a shockingly easy 77-63 win over third-seeded Maryland.
Napheesa Collier paced the Huskies with 27 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists. Gabby Williams added 17 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Katie Lou Samuelson contributed 15 points.
But when the Huskies needed a key hoop or free throw or someone to handle the Bruins' pressure, Chong was at the forefront. She also had three assists in her 38 minutes.
"I trust her, and that's the best thing you can hear from your coach," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who tied the late legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for most NCAA tournament wins (112) and tied North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell for third on the all-time wins list (990) behind Summitt and Stanford's Tara Vanderveer.
That has not always been the case as recently as the 2016 national championship game when Auriemma turned to associate head coach Chris Dailey and said he "can't trust her" after a rough stretch against Syracuse in Indianapolis.
The Ossining, New York, native has persevered.
"I love the confidence he has in me, and it's like he has more confidence in me than I do in myself," Chong said. "That helps me so much. His support gets me excited, pumped ... Just hearing it makes me want to keep going and working hard.
"A lot of times he'll be sarcastic, but when he would say I was doing something wrong it's not like I didn't know that. But when he's on me he's always pushing me to do better."
Chong has not only built trust with her Hall of Fame coach, but with her teammates as well.
They know better than anyone the ups and downs she's had in her college career.
"We completely trust Saniya and that's something she has proved throughout the year," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "It's not only in the games that everyone's seen but the practices that we've had. The consistency has been there all season. To add another dimension is big for us. For Saniya to have a great game, a great breakout game like this with everything that she has gone through the past four years, is huge.
"Saniya is not only a great player but a great person. She is someone who wants to be great, someone who works at it and won't give up. When Coach challenges her, she responds."
UConn improved to 23-2 in Sweet 16 games -- the losses are to Iowa State in 1999 and Stanford in 2005 -- and to 12-1 in NCAA tournament games at Webster Bank Arena.
But it was UCLA (25-9) that started fast. Kennedy Burke's basket gave the Bruins a 9-2 lead, and matched the Huskies' largest deficit of the season. They also trailed by seven in the opener at Florida State. A Nurse 3-pointer, though, started a 17-2 run that put UConn in front to stay.
"We stayed calm and focused on what we needed to do rather than getting caught up in their run and what they were doing," Samuelson said. "They are a good team, they wouldn't be here if they weren't, and they're going to have runs. We had to bear down."
The Huskies led 48-31 at halftime and matched their biggest lead at 60-40 on a Williams three-point play.
UCLA closed within 12 before Chong nailed a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to stop one run. The Bruins would get no closer than 12 the rest of the way as Chong would hit four free throws in the finalto help put it away.
Her previous best scoring output in NCAA tournament was nine in a first-round game against Prairie View A&M her freshman year.
"Saniya made some big plays, big shots," Auriemma said. "She's as good now as she can be. It's at the perfect time in her career. She's a senior. Sometimes it never happens. I'm really thrilled for her that it's happening. She deserves it. She's hung in there."
Jordin Canada led UCLA with 20 points and 11 assists. Monique Billings chipped in 17 points and 16 rebounds while Kari Korver was 5-for-8 from 3-point land for 15 points.
The Bruins were seekings their first regional final since their only previous appearance in 1999.
"You can't do a good job on just two or three players with Connecticut," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "You have to do a phenomenal, A-plus job on the team. It's never about the individual. It's always about the team. I think (Chong) was just ready when her number was called and her opportunity came."
The Huskies and Bruins will meet at Pauley Pavilion on, part of a three-game west coast trip for UConn which will include games against Michigan State in Eugene, Oregon, and at Nevada.
Oregon built a 36-27 halftime lead and held off every Maryland charge over the final 20 minutes to reach its first Elite Eight. The Ducks forced the Terrapins into 21 turnovers. Brionna Jones had 16 points and 15 rebounds for Maryland (32-3), which was unhappy when it was given a No. 3 seed by the tournament selection committee.
UConn and Oregon have met twice with the Huskies winning in routs both times. But that was before Kelly Graves became the Ducks' coach and before any of their current starters had enrolled at the school.
"There are no bad teams left," Collier said. "is going to be a hard game as well.