UConn notebook: Husky hoedown at the Final Four

DALLAS — When UConn’s Tierney Lawlor graduates in May, she will leave Storrs with a bachelor’s degree in sustainable farm and ranch management.

Lawlor, a senior guard from Ansonia, hopes to go West — way out West — and live her dream with cattle and other livestock.

So when Final Four organizers planned a trip to Eddie Deen’s Ranch on Wednesday night, nobody was more excited than Lawlor.

After all, what’s better than a hoedown joint with a Texas Longhorn standing guard with a mighty rack, foot-stomping line dancing and maybe the best barbecue in Dallas?

All of the Final Four teams — UConn, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Stanford — attended the event.

“I had a lot of fun. It was fun line dancing. They had a steer there, so it was cool to see a live animal,” Lawlor said Thursday at the American Airlines Center. “The food was really good. The atmosphere was a lot of fun.”

So who is the best line dancer on the Huskies?

“Lou (Samuelson) was moving pretty well,” Lawlor said. “Napheesa (Collier) was doing good and Gabby (Williams).”

For Williams, a junior guard from Sparks, Nev., it was the perfect way for the Huskies to spend their last road trip with Lawlor.

“It made all our hearts really full to see her enjoying herself,” Williams said. “She said it herself: ‘This is the most fun I’ve had in a really, really long time.’

“It made us happy to see how happy she was because we do a lot of things for our seniors. We want this for our seniors. For her to have that experience, it was awesome.”

The night out also gave Samuelson an opportunity to hang out with her sister, Karlie, a senior guard on Stanford.

“It’s crazy that we made it here (together),” Karlie said. “It’s fun.”

MALLOY DECLARES ‘HUSKY WEEKEND’ IN STATE: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared Friday through Sunday as “Husky Weekend” in the state to honor the UConn women’s basketball program.

The top-seeded Huskies (36-0) will meet No. 2 seed Mississippi State (33-4) on Friday at 10 p.m. on ESPN2 in the national semifinals. No. 1 seed South Carolina (31-4) will play No. 2 seed Stanford (32-5) in the first national semifinal at 7:30 p.m.

“There has never been a team in all of sports history that has been as dominant, strong, and fierce as UConn women’s basketball,” Malloy said in a release. “The women on the team have been inspirational, not only to young athletes here in Connecticut, but to millions of people throughout the country.”

Malloy said residents should support the Huskies by wearing UConn gear and the team’s blue and white colors. Flying team flags is another great option, the governor suggested.

“Connecticut could not have better role models representing our state on the national stage, and we are incredibly proud of everything they have achieved,” Malloy said.

NOT ONE TO REMEMBER: Neither Vic Schaefer nor his players forgot how UConn crushed Mississippi State in last year’s Sweet 16. In fact, they did the exact opposite.

In the days after the Huskies’ 98-38 beatdown, Schaefer made his players watch video of a loss he calls both “humbling and embarrassing.”

“We watched it a lot before the season even started, just to remind you how fast the game can get away from you,” senior guard Dominque Dillingham said. “I think it taught us we have to compete each and every possession, take it one possession at a time.”

The Bulldogs will take four new starters into the rematch, but the sting still remains from their last meeting.

“They were Speedy Gonzalez fast,” Schaefer said. “They were really fast. We walked into the gym that day with six players in walking boots, and it looks like we still had them on when we were playing.”

TOP OF THEIR GAME: Washington’s season ended in the Sweet 16 to Mississippi State, but their best player found her way into the spotlight once more on the eve of the Final Four.

The Huskies’ Kelsey Plum was announced as the AP Player of the Year on Friday in Dallas. The electric guard finished her career with NCAA-record 3,498 points, a whopping 57 of which came against Utah on Senior Night.

“There’s not much I can say besides that I’m just very thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and I’m very thankful to play this game,” said Plum, who led the country with 31.7 points per game.

Plum received 30 of a possible 33 votes. A’ja Wilson of South Carolina, Williams and Samuelson each received one vote.

Before UConn’s Geno Auriemma received his trophy for AP Coach of the Year for the ninth time, Plum glanced at Auriemma and joked, “Wow, this (trophy) is huge. This is what your national championship trophy looks like, coach.”