The Huskies earned their first win in four tries this season against the Irish with an 83-65 victory.
NEW ORLEANS — Breanna Stewart had all the answers to help Connecticut finally vanquish Notre Dame.
The stellar freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks and was seemingly everywhere in leading the Huskies back to the national championship game with an 83-65 win over Notre Dame on Sunday night.
The Huskies will face Louisville in the title game Tuesday night, and it will be an all-Big East affair after the Cardinals rallied to beat California 64-57 in the other semifinal. UConn will be going for its eighth national championship to match Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball history. The Huskies beat Louisville 72-58 on Jan. 15.
No team has dominated Geno Auriemma’s Huskies the way that the Irish had over the past few seasons. UConn (34-4) had lost the previous two national semifinals to the Irish and dropped three thrilling games this season to their rival.
Stewart and her teammates wouldn’t let it happen again, ending the brilliant career of Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins. She finished her last college game with 10 points, going a dismal 3 for 15 from the field.
“Once you get here you’re only going to beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they’re really, really good,” Auriemma said. “For one night, that’s what’s great about the NCAA tournament, for one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were.”
The Huskies built a 10-point halftime lead playing incredible defense and Notre Dame (35-2) could get no closer than six in the second half as its school record 30-game winning streak came to an end.
The Huskies and Irish have developed the best rivalry in women’s basketball over the past few seasons, and this game might have been the final chapter between the two with Notre Dame headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
Two years ago, the Huskies won the first three meetings before Notre Dame shocked them in the national semifinals. Notre Dame had won seven of the previous eight meetings before Sunday night and this one, for once, started slowly. With the teams so familiar with each other, getting easy baskets was virtually impossible. Notre Dame went nearly 7 ½ minutes without a field goal, missing 14 consecutive shots.
While UConn would usually knock out most opponents during a scoreless stretch like that, the Huskies couldn’t take advantage against the Irish, scoring only four points themselves.
Neither team led by more than four points for the first 16 minutes. But trailing 26-25 with 3:44 left in the half, UConn took over. Bria Hartley, who has struggled all season while recovering from an ankle injury she suffered over the summer, was the spark. The junior guard started the spurt with a three-pointer and added a nifty pull-up moments later to make it 32-26.
After Notre Dame scored to pull within four, Morgan Tuck put back a miss and Stewart made a three-pointer. A Kelly Faris layup with 3.9 seconds left capped the burst and made it 39-29 at the break.
Diggins was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half as the Huskies harassed her all over the court. She scored the Irish’s first two points on free throws and didn’t have another point until getting a steal early in the second half and converting it for an easy layup to make it 42-35.
The loss ended an incredible season for Notre Dame and left Diggins without a national championship. The star guard had accomplished nearly everything else in her stellar career at the school, including helping her Irish turn around their rivalry against the Huskies.
UCONN (34-4) — Doty 0-0 0-0 0, Mosqueda-Lewis 7-12 1-1 16, Stewart 10-16 5-5 29, Dolson 3-4 3-4 9, Faris 3-7 4-4 10, Tuck 2-7 0-0 4, Jefferson 0-3 0-0 0, Hartley 4-13 6-7 15, Buck 0-0 0-0 0, Stokes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 19-21 83.
NOTRE DAME (35-2) — Diggins 3-15 4-4 10, Achonwa 2-6 6-6 10, McBride 5-20 3-4 16, Loyd 5-17 0-0 11, Braker 3-8 2-2 8, Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, Cable 2-4 0-0 4, Mabrey 0-0 0-0 0, Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 2-2 2-4 6. Totals 22-74 17-20 65.
Halftime — UConn 39-29. Three-point goals — UConn 6-14 (Stewart 4-5, Mosqueda-Lewis 1-3, Hartley 1-5, Tuck 0-1), Notre Dame 4-13 (McBride 3-4, Loyd 1-3, Cable 0-1, Turner 0-2, Diggins 0-3). Fouled out — Braker. Rebounds — UConn 41 (Tuck 7), Notre Dame 43 (Braker 9). Assists — UConn 16 (Faris 6), Notre Dame 16 (Diggins 8). Total fouls — UConn 18, Notre Dame 19. A — 17,545.