Irish upset bid falls short
A 38-30 edge in points in the paint over two-time defending national champion Connecticut. A 22-13 advantage in points off of turnovers. An 18-4 advantage in second-chance points. A 13-2 edge in bench points.
But in the final minutes, UConn hit its last four shots, and Notre Dame hit only two of its last 11, for the only statistic that mattered: Connecticut 79, Notre Dame 76.
More than 7,000 fans battled through record snow conditions to pack Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center and watch Notre Dame put the heralded Huskies on the ropes.
South Bend's Skylar Diggins, who scored 16 points for Notre Dame, missed a desperation three from the corner at the buzzer trying to get the Irish into overtime.
“I'm incredibly disappointed at the outcome,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ???I thought that we played hard and we did a lot of great things. If we would have shot the ball a little bit better, just a little bit better, made a couple of lay-ups, I think we would have won the game.
Devereaux Peters led Notre Dame with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Natalie Novosel added 16 points.
Maya Moore led UConn with 31 points, surpassing the 2,500-point mark in the process. Moore, the 45th player in NCAA history to hit the 2,500-point mark, now has 2,527 points in her career.
???Maya was obviously a challenge for us to guard,??? McGraw said. ???We could have maybe switched assignments a little bit. I don't think we had anybody on our team who could guard her. Maybe that didn't matter. Overall, she made a lot of big shots in the game and they shot really well from the line (26-of-27 compared to Notre Dame's 20-of-25), and that was the difference.
Notre Dame grabbed a five-point lead at 72-67 with 4:21 left in the game. Becca Bruszewski hammer-blocked a shot by UConn's Kelly Faris and grabbed the rebound as she hit the floor. Bruszewski passed the ball to Skylar Diggins, who sprinted down court and dished to Natalie Novosel for a driving baseline layup, triggering an eruption by Irish nation.
Novosel connected on a layup with 30 seconds left to put the Irish on top, 76-75, and Notre Dame fans sensed that they were about to witness a spectacular Irish moment.
Notre Dame's defense covered Moore in the final seconds, but Bria Hartley found Kelly Faris underneath for a layup with 14 seconds left. Diggins drove to the lane but missed a jumper, and Stefanie Dolson rebounded for the Huskies with three seconds left.
Dolson was fouled and hit both free throws for a 79-76 lead. After the ball was knocked out of bounds, Notre Dame called a timeout with 2.5 seconds left to set up a play. Becca Bruszewski found Diggins in the corner, but the heavily-guarded Irish sophomore was unable to connect, and UConn escaped with its 50th consecutive victory against a Big East opponent (regular season and tournament play).
No. 13 Notre Dame (13-4 overall, 2-1 Big East) returns to the Joyce Center on Wednesday to play Louisville. No. 2 UConn (14-1, 4-0), which had its historic 90-game winning streak broken by Stanford on Dec. 30, 71-59, plays at St. John's on Wednesday.
???I think when you come that close, it makes it even more disappointing to come up empty, and we had a great crowd on a day like this, the people came out, and we're so thankful for the crowd,??? McGraw said. ???They were so into the game. It really helped us. They were a big sixth man today. We're disappointed that we weren't able to get the win for them.???
Faris, a native of Plainfield, Ind., entered the game averaging just 7.5 points, but the 5-11 sophomore scored a career-high 20. Faris, who averaged 22 percent 3-point shooting (9-of-41) and 67 percent free-throw shooting (20-of-30), hit 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 10-of-10 free throws.
Faris said all of the Huskies stepped up big at crunch time.
???We talked about it after the game, and those last few minutes were how we are supposed to play,??? Faris said. ???That's the Connecticut team that comes out. Unfortunately, we didn't play like that the entire game. It was good for us to see that we have it in us and pull out the game like that, but we have to play like that the entire game.???
UConn avoided back-to-back road losses for the first time since 1998-99. The Huskies lost two games ago at Stanford, 71-59, the game that ended their record 90-game winning streak.
???They had never won a big road game,??? coach Geno Auriemma said of this season's Huskies. ???Until you do it, you're not sure whether you can or not.''
??? …. Of course it's a problem. The only time they've been in this environment was at Stanford, and they lost.???
CONNECTICUT (14-1): Maya Moore 11-21 7-7 31, Stefanie Dolson 2-6 4-4 8, Tiffany Hayes 4-9 3-4 11, Bria Hartley 3-9 0-0 7, Kelly Faris 4-9 10-10 20, Samarie Walker 0-1 2-2 2, Lorin Dixon 0-2 0-0 0, Heather Buck 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-57 26-27 79.
NOTRE DAME (13-4): Devereaux Peters 5-13 7-8 17, Becca Bruszewski 4-9 0-0 8, Skylar Diggins 5-18 6-6 16, Natalie Novosel 6-15 4-7 16, Brittany Mallory 2-5 0-0 6, Natalie Achonwa 3-11 3-4 9, Fraderica Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Kaila Turner 1-3 0-0 2, Kayla McBride 1-1 0-0 2, Ariel Braker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-75 20-25 76.
Halftime - Tied 41-41. 3-Point Goals - Connecticut 5-17 (Faris 2-3, Moore 2-6, Hartley 1-5, Dixon 0-1, Hayes 0-2), Notre Dame 2-11 (Mallory 2-3, Achonwa 0-1, Turner 0-1, Novosel 0-2, Diggins 0-4). Fouled Out - None. Rebounds - Connecticut 43 (Dolson 9), Notre Dame 43 (Peters 11). Assists - Connecticut 17 (Faris, Hartley 5), Notre Dame 17 (Diggins, Novosel 5). Total Fouls - Connecticut 18, Notre Dame 18. A - 9,149.