Natalie Achonwa's layup with 1.8 seconds left lifted No. 2 Notre Dame to its first Big East tournament championship with a 61-59 victory over third-ranked Connecticut.
HARTFORD, Conn. — Natalie Achonwa’s layup with 1.8 seconds left lifted No. 2 Notre Dame to its first Big East tournament championship with a 61-59 victory over third-ranked Connecticut on Tuesday night.
Skylar Diggins stole an errant pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with eight seconds left and, after dribbling through a few defenders, found Achonwa for the uncontested basket.
UConn’s Kelly Faris heaved a desperation attempt from 65 feet that fell harmlessly off the backboard, setting off a wild celebration for the Fighting Irish, who have won 26 straight games.
Fighting Irish players, wearing championship hats and T-shirts, set up a dance line to celebrate and did an Irish jig in front of the school band.
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Notre Dame (31-1) had been in the Big East title game six previous times and lost to the Huskies (29-4) in each one.
The Fighting Irish were 16-0 in Big East regular-season play.
“We leave here champions and go home undefeated,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “To win it here makes it even better.”
Kayla McBride, voted the tournament’s most outstanding player, scored 23 points to lead the Irish. Jewell Loyd finished with 16 and Diggins had 12.
“I’ve had a lot of big wins in my years here — wins against UConn to go to national-championship games — it definitely is up there,” Diggins said. “It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program.”
Stefanie Dolson scored 18 points and Breanna Stewart had 16 for UConn, which had won the last five Big East tournament titles but fell to Notre Dame for the third time this season.
The Huskies trailed 59-53 with 2:55 left before tying the score at 59. They had a chance to take the lead but Faris missed a layup. She got her own rebound and after calling a timeout, the Huskies had a chance before Mosqueda-Lewis got caught in the corner and threw the ball to Diggins.
“At this point, how I played isn’t really in my mind,” Dolson said. “We fought in the second half to tie it up … at the end of the day, we didn’t win.”
UConn didn’t make a three-pointer for the first time since the 2002 NCAA championship game. The Huskies were 0 for 5 on three-point attempts.
Notre Dame has dominated the series recently, with seven victories in the last eight meetings. The UConn victory during that span was in the conference-title game last season, but the Huskies couldn’t pull off yet another win over Notre Dame for the tournament championship.
The loss ended a run of 19 straight seasons that Connecticut had won either the regular season or postseason conference title.
UConn and Notre Dame could potentially meet for a fourth time in the NCAA tournament. If so, it would be the third straight season they would meet four times.
“History has shown that what happens during the regular season doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen in the postseason,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s a lot of basketball to be played before a chance of a Connecticut-Notre Dame game.
“We’re going to get together on Saturday and start preparing for round one of the NCAA tournament. That’s as far as we’re looking towards right now.”
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