Beating UConn gives Notre Dame another shot at title
DENVER — Notre Dame is back in the national championship thanks to Skylar Diggins’ steady leadership and Brittany Mallory’s clutch shooting.
Diggins scored 19 points, Mallory hit two big three-pointers in overtime and the Irish beat Connecticut 83-75 Sunday night.
Notre Dame (35-3) also beat the Huskies (33-5) in the semifinals last year, ending Maya Moore’s brilliant career and the Huskies’ bid for a third consecutive national championship. But Notre Dame stumbled 48 hours later, losing to Texas A&M in the title game.
Unfinished business has been the mantra all season, and now the Irish get a chance to take care of business Tuesday night against Baylor.
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The score was tied at 67 after regulation following an 8-2 run by UConn that was fueled by a series of hustle plays from Kelly Faris, who had a steal and a basket and four free throws in the final 90 seconds.
The Huskies, who were led by Stefanie Dolson’s 20 points, stretched their run to 11-3 when Bria Hartley opened the extra period with a three-pointer.
The Huskies had the ball again after a missed free throw but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fired up an off-target three-pointer early in the shot clock and UConn never recovered.
Diggins’ best play came on defense. With Notre Dame clinging to a 73-72 lead, the Huskies had a two-on-one fast break but Diggins held her ground and forced a turnover, and the Irish scored the next eight points.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The last two minutes, minute and a half, of regulation were pretty amazing. As most games do, it turned on one great play by a great player.
“In overtime we didn’t have enough. We took a chance on making it difficult, but Brittany Mallory made two huge shots. That’s who we wanted to take the shots, and God bless her, she made them.”
Mallory was 0 for 4 from behind the arc in regulation.
“It was a big sigh of relief when that first one went in,” she said.
After Diggins tied it with a three-pointer, Mallory’s back-to-back threes and a free throw pushed Notre Dame to a 77-72 lead.
“My teammates just kept talking to me, ‘You’re going to hit a shot. You’re going to hit a shot,’ ” said Mallory, who had seven of her 11 points in overtime. “I was getting a little down on myself and I just happened to keep finding the three-point line and my teammates found me and they couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“I am euphoric right now for Brittany Mallory,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “What a way for a senior to come through in one of the last games of her career.”
Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 20 points, including her follow-up hook shot with 4.6 seconds left in regulation that tied it at 67 after Diggins’ shot was off.
“It was a whirlwind,” Novosel said. “Two turnovers from each team. Sky was going to take them off the dribble and we were going to work off of her. I was fortunate the ball came right to me and I was able to put it in.”
Devereaux Peters added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Irish.
Percentages: FG .456, FT .769. Three-point goals: 3-13, .231 (Hartley 3-6, Hayes 0-1, Faris 0-1, Doty 0-2, Mosqueda-Lewis 0-3). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 8 (Dolson 4, Stokes 2, Mosqueda-Lewis, Doty). Turnovers: 21 (Hayes 6, Hartley 5, Dolson 4, Faris 3, Stokes 2, Mosqueda-Lewis). Steals: 10 (Hayes 5, Faris 3, Hartley, Mosqueda-Lewis). Technical fouls: None.
|NOTRE DAME 83|
Percentages: FG .403, FT .741. Three-point goals: 5-14, .357 (Novosel 2-5, Mallory 2-6, Diggins 1-2, McBride 0-1). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 7 (Peters 4, Diggins 2, Mallory). Turnovers: 16 (Diggins 4, Novosel 3, Achonwa 3, McBride 3, Peters 2, Mallory). Steals: 14 (Mallory 4, Achonwa 3, Diggins 3, Peters 2, McBride, Novosel). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 19,028. Officials: Cynthia Brooks, Cameron Inouye, Dennis DeMayo.