INDIANAPOLIS -- Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier were in fourth grade the last time the University of Connecticut women's basketball team missed out on going to the NCAA Final Four.
For Oregon State, Syracuse or Washington to match the Huskies' record of nine consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances, they would have to appear in every national semifinal through the 2023-24 season. Add an extra year for the remainder of the country.
"It speaks to what the program has done over the last 30 years, how great they have been and the type of people they have had here," UConn guard Kia Nurse said. "It's more than just you come in here, you wear the UConn jersey, and you're going to the Final Four. You work for it. The coaches teach you every single day that you have to earn every minute. You have to earn every win. All together, it's just a testament to the tradition of excellence that has been built here."
Top-seeded UConn pushed that Final Four streak to nine with its 86-65 win over No. 2 Texas in the Bridgeport Regional final at sold-out Webster Bank Arena on Monday night. The Huskies (36-0) will look to take the next step towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship Sunday when they take on Dallas Regional champion Oregon State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
UConn (2000-04), LSU (2004-08), Stanford (2008-12), and Notre Dame (2011-15) had runs of five straight Final Four appearances, with the Irish's ending this season with a loss to Stanford in the Sweet 16.
The Huskies' 73rd consecutive win improves their record to 17-5 in Elite Eight contests. They trail only Tennessee (18) in Final Four berths.
"That game is the most difficult game to win," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "You're playing against a really good team that really tested us at both ends of the floor and forced our best players to play great. That's exactly what you needs at this time in the tournament. You don't want to be going to the Final Four thinking that games are easy. And this was by no means easy at all.
"I'm excited for our seniors. I've been thinking about it all year long, how I really want it to end. And they say being there is half the battle, right? So some great things can happen next weekend, but you have to be there to make it happen and we did the hard part."
Starting with Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon in 2011, the trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck is the sixth straight UConn senior class to go to the Final Four in each of its four years in Storrs.
"Whenever you have a new team it's hard," Stewart said. "Nothing comes easy. Especially playing for (Auriemma), playing at UConn, nothing is easy. And we had to build that chemistry, to rebuild the chemistry with our entire team, to show the young guys how we do things, to become even better leaders, take on bigger roles. It wasn't easy, but the experience definitely helps."
How difficult did Texas make it for UConn? Jefferson, who pulled within one assist of Diana Taurasi's career record, had ice bags on both legs and ankles after playing 38 minutes.
Included in the seniors' overall record of 149-5 is a 33-1 postseason mark with 31 straight wins.
"This isn't a time when we get nervous," Stewart said. "We're fortunate to have been in this position so many times that we know exactly what is going to happen. We've worked hard to be in these situations, and we are prepared for these situations. It's when the best players play their best."
UConn is the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. But Oregon State knocked out Baylor in Dallas while Syracuse eliminated South Carolina in the Sweet 16. Washington took out Pac-12 nemesis Stanford after the Cardinal ousted Notre Dame. It's the first national semifinal appearance for the Beavers, Orange, and west-coast Huskies.
The east-coast Huskies have made another home at the Final Four, which is why there's still more hard work to do.
Stewart showing CLASS
Stewart picked up another honor Friday as she was selected as the 2015-16 Senior CLASS Award winner for women's basketball. The award, chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I coaches, national basketball media, and fans, is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in Division I women's basketball. To be eligible for the Senior CLASS Award -- an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, a student-athlete must be classified as a senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character and competition.
"Being recognized as the Senior CLASS Award winner is an unbelievable honor because it highlights more than just my on-the-court skills," Stewart said in a statement. "Since I arrived on campus, I've grown in a number of ways, but the biggest one is finding the joy and satisfaction in helping others, whether it is my teammates or people I don't know through various community service activities. Beyond UConn and beyond basketball, I hope one day to create my own non-profit organization, and the Senior CLASS Award is a tremendous milestone and an indication that I'm headed in the right direction."
Stewart is in pursuit of an individualized sport in society degree and was a second-team Academic All-America as a junior.
"Breanna Stewart is one of the most talented women's basketball players ever to compete at the college level," said Erik Miner, executive director for the Senior CLASS Award. "But what's even more amazing about her is that she doesn't just strive to be the best on the court, but also in the classroom and community."
Stewart and Jefferson were named to the Senior CLASS All-American first team as were Oregon State's Ruth Hamblin, Army's Kelsey Minato and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell. Stewart and Jefferson were named to the 10-player United States Basketball Writers Association All-America team Friday.