Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame just seem to have Connecticut's number.
Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame just seem to have Connecticut’s number.
The Irish have turned one of the best rivalries in women’s basketball into a one-sided affair lately, winning five of the past six meetings.
The senior All-American scored 19 points hitting big shot after big shot in the second half to lift fifth-ranked Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory over the top-ranked Huskies on Saturday.
This was the latest victory for the Irish (12-1, 1-0 Big East), who also ended UConn’s season the past two years by beating the Huskies in past two Final Fours.
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“I think when we play them, there is a lot on the line, whether it is a Big East Championship or them being ranked higher than us or in the Final Four,” Diggins said. “This is good for us.”
No team has had this kind of success against UConn in the past 20 years.
The last team to beat UConn five out of six times was Miami back in the early 1990s – before the Huskies started winning national championships.
The Irish were expected to be down this season with three starters graduated. It didn’t matter with Diggins still on the team.
With UConn poised to pull away in the second half, Diggins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep her team in the game.
Later with the shot clock about to run out, Diggins hit a leaner from the wing.
Finally, with the Irish down by one with 49 seconds left, she got fouled on a drive and calmly sank both free throws. It would be the last points of the game.
“I think Skylar has changed things for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She believed we can win and has the confidence and that is contagious.”
The Huskies (12-1, 0-1) had a few chances to pull out the win in the final 30 seconds, but in front of a sellout crowd of 10,127, they fell short.
Breanna Stewart had her shot blocked in the lane. The Huskies maintained possession and then after a timeout, Stewart missed a jumper from the top of the key. Kelly Faris grabbed the rebound giving UConn one more chance, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis caught the ball in the corner and her wide-open 3 fell off the rim.
The Irish grabbed the loose ball and Diggins ran out the clock.
“How many times can we put up our defense,” McGraw said. “I thought about our football team getting that goal line stand (against Stanford) three times in a row, if they can do it, we can do it.”
The Irish women were headed down South after the game to get ready for Tuesday’s contest against South Florida. Notre Dame was going to first spend a day in Orlando.
McGraw laughed at the thought that her team would head to Disney World after beating the No. 1 team in the country. She put the victory in perspective.
“It’s great to win when they are ranked No. 1,” she said. “It’s great for our team, but it’s still January 5. We’re just trying to get better.”
The Huskies had come into the game unbeaten and a week earlier had stunned then-No. 1 Stanford 61-35 on the Cardinal’s homecourt ending their 82-game home winning streak. They had already beaten five ranked teams by an average of 24 points.
“It’s definitely been an up and down week” said Stefanie Dolson, who scored 17 points to lead Connecticut. “We were all extremely excited and on a high when we beat Stanford the way we did. We came into this game and we weren’t ready. I don’t think we were ready for how hard Notre Dame was going to come at us. They out-toughed us.”
UConn trailed by two at the half and took a 48-44 lead on Dolson’s layup with 16:18 left in the game. The Huskies led 63-60 with 8 minutes left before Notre Dame scored five quick points. Neither team could get more than a two-point lead the rest of the way.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was OK with the shots his team got in the end.
“You got the best 3-point shooter in the country with a wide open 3 to win it and it doesn’t go in,” he said. “I’d be more upset if the wrong guy took the wrong shot at the wrong time. We came out of timeout and got the shot we wanted and it didn’t go in.”
Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 17 points.
Stewart, the high school player of the year last season, scored all 10 of her points in the second half after missing her first five shots. She also had six blocks and nine rebounds.
“She looked out of sorts a little bit, struggled a little bit,” Auriemma said. “But then again you think about what she did, 10 points, nine rebounds, six blocks, that’s not a bad day. I think that’s what we expect from her. Shots she missed we come to expect she’ll make all those.”
The Irish won both regular-season meetings last year, before being blown out in the Big East championship game. They won the decisive meeting in the Final Four, 83-75, in overtime.
Notre Dame’s lone defeat this season came at home to No. 2 Baylor, 73-61, on Dec. 5.
The two teams, who have played 12 times over the past four seasons, will play again in South Bend on March 4, in the final game of the regular season.
It’s not certain if the two teams will play again after Notre Dame leaves for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
UConn led 18-15 midway through the first half before Notre Dame went on a 12-2 run sparked by Kayla McBride, who led Notre Dame with 21 points. She had back-to-back jumpers. Michaela Mabrey hit a 3-pointer and Natalie Achonwa a free throw to cap the burst.
Mabrey’s second 3-pointer of the half gave the Irish a 34-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the half before UConn closed with a 12-4 burst to make it 38-36 at the break.
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