Published March 28. 2012 4:00AM
Kingston, R.I. - It was more than a month ago when they (gulp) lost at home on Senior Night, an event that underscored an enduring, obstinate dilemma with the UConn women:
Maya's gone. No true superstar. To whom will they turn when time grows desperate?
The Huskies offered the answer Tuesday night: Each other.
And they're off to the Final Four again.
UConn 80, Kentucky 65.
UConn (33-4) will play Notre Dame at the Final Four Sunday in Denver (6:30 p.m.), a rematch of last season's national semifinal and this season's Big East tournament championship game. UConn beat the Irish in the Big East final after losing twice during the regular season.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Tiffany Hayes, left holding various body parts after several violent thuds to the floor, led Connecticut with 22 points. It was the third time she'd scored at least 20 in an NCAA tournament game in her career. But none counted more than this one.
Hayes, the Huskies' lone senior, also had six rebounds and four assists.
"This is even sweeter," Hayes said. "This is a team effort. It wasn't one or two people to get us there."
The best illustration came late in the game on the scoreboard at the Ryan Center. It read "20-11-13-13-11." That was the point total at the time of the five Connecticut starters, suggesting enviable balance.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 18 points, while Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson had 13 apiece. Kelly Faris, who fouled out, had 11 points and five assists.
"I'm happiest for Tiffany, most of all," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "When you're a senior, you want to play to the last day if you can. I'm thrilled for her."
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said, "(Hayes) is so big and physical. We had a hard time guarding her."
Hayes turned the game on the final play of the first half. With Auriemma barking because Mosqueda-Lewis committed a foul that gave Kentucky's A'Dia Mathies two free throws with two seconds left, Hayes inbounded the ball under the UConn basket. With authority. She threw a touchdown pass to Kelly Faris over midcourt. Faris caught it and converted a layup at the horn to give UConn a 41-39 lead at halftime.
UConn never trailed again.
"We huddled," Hayes said. "We definitely talked about it. Kelly said if they play it wrong, she was going long. She caught it like a running back and she finished."
Hayes had just finished the sentence on the podium after the game when Dolson interjected, "It was awesome."
After Auriemma gave Dolson a quizzical look, Dolson said, "from a viewer's point of view."
Norwich Free Academy graduate Kastine Evans scored 10 points for the Wildcats. Evans made two of four 3-point attempts and had three rebounds. Former UConn forward Samarie Walker led Kentucky with 14 points.