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Irish Have All The Answers vs. UConn

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ESPN.com - One team always leaves this place with more questions than answers, its every flaw exposed and each deficiency exploited by an opponent at home in its surroundings. Hockey's Whalers have been gone for years, but the power play often feels alive and well, one team controlling the game as if it has more players on the court.

One team often shows what basketball looks like in five-part harmony, which is why the XL Center is so often home to championship celebrations this time of year.

It just isn't the team with a flight to catch in most cases.

Notre Dame has all the answers this season. It leaves Hartford with its first outright Big East championship after a 72-59 victory against Connecticut, the first-ever win for the Fighting Irish at the XL Center, the Huskies' second home. In front of 15,132 fans unfamiliar with what unfolded, Notre Dame won not by playing a perfect game or rising to the moment, but simply by playing basketball the same way they have all season.

And the Huskies are left with plenty of questions to ponder on the short trip back to campus.

"They're just better than we are right now," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "Devereaux Peters is a better rebounder than anybody we have. Natalie Novosel is just a tougher kid than anybody we have right now. And they deserved to win, fair and square."

Peters finished with 15 rebounds, two blocks, three steals and three assists. It was the seventh time in the past 10 games that she grabbed at least 15 boards. Six of Monday's rebounds came on the offensive end, part of an effort from the Fighting Irish that piled up 19 offensive rebounds, the most by any team against Connecticut this season (since the beginning of last season, Connecticut has given up as many as 19 offensive rebounds just five times; Notre Dame is responsible for three of them). Novosel added eight rebounds and finished with 21 points, missing 11 shots from the floor but getting to the free throw line nine times. Skylar Diggins added 20 points and three steals.

But it isn't just that Notre Dame has three great players, one of whom, Diggins, is a lock for All-American honors, while the other two merit consideration. Peters was darn good during her 35 minutes on the court Monday, and Novosel was relentless, but it would be difficult to argue any of the three stars played her best game of the season. The Fighting Irish blew open what was a close game not because of their strongest link but because of the lack of any weak links.

The game was enough of a foregone conclusion, and Auriemma frustrated enough, that he emptied his bench at the same time as the stands emptied in the closing minutes, but it was still in doubt at halftime. Connecticut's Tiffany Hayes and Stefanie Dolson combined for 30 points in the first half, providing the kind of support Bria Hartley didn't have when the teams nevertheless played into overtime in the season's first meeting, and the Huskies trailed by just three points on this night.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the team talked during the break about making post entry more difficult and helping more off the dribble when Hayes went to the basket. The result was Dolson finished with six points in the second half and missed five of eight shots. Hayes took just two shots, scored four points and committed three turnovers after the break. Instead of riding the wave of momentum, Connecticut foundered against defensive pressure.

All told, the Huskies shot just 35 percent and committed 10 turnovers in the second half, their offense looking like so many visiting offenses have looked over the years.

"They put on great pressure on us," Dolson said. "We backed up. We didn't fight back."

Connecticut tried its own adjustments, relying heavily on a zone early in the second half. Unflustered, the Fighting Irish moved the ball around into the open hands of Kayla McBride, who knocked down three shots in quick succession, and Brittany Mallory, who hit two 3-pointers, one to push the lead to nine points and the second to extend it to 10 points, quelling the last run the Huskies would make.

All five parts worked as one on defense, and all five parts worked as one on offense (or six parts, if you want to count Natalie Achonwa throwing a pass to an admittedly wide open McBride as the latter stood to urge on teammates from the bench).

"Today was a really good game for us because we only turned it over 12 times," McGraw said. "I was just starting to worry about the turnovers. I thought that could be our Achilles' heel, we really were making some poor decisions. And tonight we came out, and I thought took care of the ball pretty well. Defensively, first half, we gave up a lot of points, so I was happy with the second-half defense.

"I think there's still work to be done."

Just not as much work as on the other side.

After the game, a clearly frustrated Auriemma talked about how little his team has improved since the beginning of the season and how close to perfection it needs to come to beat teams like Notre Dame and Baylor. That the Huskies are good enough to beat most teams isn't up for debate, a 26-4 record evidence enough for a team still in line to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But most teams are the teams Connecticut plays to pass the time between the games that matter, the games by which Auriemma measures his program. And it's those games in which Connecticut still looks like a team in search of an identity.

Notre Dame isn't unbeatable. Just ask West Virginia. But the Fighting Irish know what they have each and every game. They know that if they play their game, they can win any game. Perhaps should win any game.

Connecticut doesn't know what it has, getting individual brilliance from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (against Stanford), Bria Hartley (against Baylor or Notre Dame the first time) or Hayes and Dolson in the first half this night but never looking as complete as the Fighting Irish looked Monday.

"It's been a couple of weeks, a month maybe, where somebody steps up and somebody backs up," Auriemma said. "Somebody else steps up and somebody backs up. When you get a team like Notre Dame, [when] Diggins plays well and Novosel plays well and Peters plays well and they get a great night from McBride, all of a sudden now you just don't have enough."

Things could turn out differently if these teams meet again in the Big East final next week. They could turn out differently if they meet in the Final Four, as Notre Dame proved a season ago. But on this night, the same thing happened in the XL Center that always happens here.

The better team won.

"I think this team is really special," McGraw said. "And they have really high goals. They're a competitive group, they have a lot of pride, and I love that about them."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com.

Follow Graham Hays on Twitter: @grahamhays

Following Flynt - Irish Unwilling to Share

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With 8:29 left in tonight's game, Connecticut's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made a layup, got fouled and completed a three-point play to cut Notre Dame's lead to 62-58. All signs suggested this Big Monday matchup was coming down to the wire.

From that point on however, the Irish allowed just a single Kelly Faris free throw, closing the game on a 10-1 run, silencing the XL Center crowd and coming away with a 72-59 victory in the regular season finale.

Holding Connecticut scoreless over the final 7:33 of a game is impressive in its own right, but it's even more eye-opening when you consider the fact that Geno Auriemma's squad had won 99 of its last 100 games on its home floor. (They've now lost two in a row at home - Feb. 18 vs. St. John's at Gampel Pavilion was the other.)

Notre Dame has won three straight against Connecticut. They've done it in the Final Four, in front of the Purcell Pavilion home crowd, and now, on the road, in an environment where the Huskies once seemed unbeatable.

Finishing with 21 points, Natalie Novosel led the Irish in the scoring column for the second straight game. Skylar Diggins added 20 points, and Kayla McBride scored 12. Devereaux Peters had another impressive game on the boards, pulling down 15, just two days after tallying a career-high 18 in the Senior Day win over South Florida.

Notre Dame had already locked up the top seed for the upcoming BIG EAST tournament and at least a share of the conference regular season title. Defeating UConn for the second time in less than two months also means that for the first time ever, head coach Muffet McGraw's team will not have to share the honor - something the Irish admitted (not surprisingly) after Saturday's game that they did not want to do.

During the 2000-01 season, the same year in which the Notre Dame women's basketball team won its first and only national title, the Irish were co-champions with the Huskies.

This time however, it's all theirs.

Tonight's win was the 10th of the season against a ranked opponent, and the fifth against a top-10 team. The ten victories over top-25 opponents sets a school record, topping the previous mark of nine set during the 2000-01 campaign.

The Irish return home for a few days, before heading back to New England and the same venue where tonight, they earned their 28th victory of the season. They will take on the winner of DePaul vs. USF/Pittsburgh in the BIG EAST quarterfinals on Sunday at 2 pm ET on ESPNU.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Huge Night for Irish Hoops

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It's Big Monday on the ESPN family of networks, but it might be an even bigger evening for Notre Dame basketball.

The fun starts at 7 pm ET on ESPN when the #20/#19 men's team takes on #11/#12 Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Despite a loss to St. John's on Saturday, head coach Mike Brey's squad is still in contention for one of the two remaining double-byes (Syracuse and Marquette have already clinched) for next week's BIG EAST tournament.

At 12-4 in the conference, Notre Dame is in third place and currently leads Georgetown and South Florida by one game. A win tonight, and the Irish would not kick off their quest for a conference title until next Thursday's quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.

If Notre Dame drops its second straight game, it risks losing that spot and having to play its first game on Wednesday, Mar. 7. Still, the Irish control their own destiny and could rebound this Friday at home against Providence. A win against the Friars, and Notre Dame would be, at worst, in a three-way tie for fourth place with Georgetown and South Florida.

Both the Hoyas and the Irish defeated the Bulls, so the tiebreaker would go in favor of Georgetown and Notre Dame for the third and fourth seeds.

Beyond conference seeding, a road victory over a ranked opponent would bolster Notre Dame's already impressive NCAA tournament resume, while also taking some pressure off of Friday's Senior Night game.

On the women's side the #3 Fighting Irish travel to Hartford for a game against #4 Connecticut at 9 pm ET on ESPN2. The Huskies have dominated the series, 28-6, but Notre Dame has taken the past two matchups - last March in the Final Four and earlier this season at the Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish have already clinched a share of the BIG EAST regular season championship, as well as the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, but they can earn their first outright title - something they have not accomplished in 17 years - with a win tonight.

Notre Dame shared the conference honor in 2000-01, when it split the title with UConn. That season, head coach Muffet McGraw also led the program to its first and only national championship, a feat the team has its sights set on again this year.

The Irish are 9-1 this season against ranked opponents, and have tallied four wins against top 10 teams. They will be back at the XL Center on Saturday, Mar. 4 at 2 pm ET on ESPNU in the BIG EAST quarterfinals against a to-be-determined opponent.

Clear your schedule, grab your remote and get your popcorn ready for what should be an exciting night of Notre Dame basketball.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Irish Refuse to Lose On Senior Day

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After squandering a 12-point first half lead, and even falling behind for a bit in the second half, Notre Dame took control down the stretch, on the way to a 80-68 victory over South Florida on Senior Day at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish will visit Connecticut on Monday night at 9 pm ET on ESPN2, but today's win clinches at least a share of the regular season BIG EAST title.

Committing 22 turnovers, Notre Dame did not play its best game, but the Irish hit 26-for-30 (86.7%) from the line and made several important free throws down the stretch to put the Bulls' upset hopes to rest.

Fittingly, it was senior guard Natalie Novosel who led third-ranked Notre Dame with a career-high 32 points in her final regular season home game. Fifth-year forward Devereaux Peters added 17, and had a career afternoon on the glass, pulling down 18 rebounds in the victory.

Though she has one more season left in an Irish uniform, junior guard Skylar Diggins also played as if it was her last collegiate home game. The South Bend native scored 18 points and dished out nine assists, coming back from a minor leg injury late in the second half to help lead Notre Dame to its 27th win of the season.

Notre Dame now improves to 27-2 overall and 14-1 in the conference, with one regular season game remaining.

After the game, the Class of 2012, including Novosel, Peters, Brittany Mallory and Fraderica Miller, as well as student managers Lucy Eckard and Nick Sigmund, was honored on the court. During the past four seasons, this group has compiled an impressive 109-24 record, but they hope to add another nine or ten victories to that resume before it's all said and done.

Monday will be an important night for both Irish basketball teams - the men play at 7 pm ET on ESPN at Georgetown, while the women tip off at 9 pm ET on ESPN2 against the UConn Huskies. Both teams are looking to vie for positioning in the upcoming BIG EAST tournaments, on their way to March Madness.

Stay tuned to UND.com for post-game coverage and highlights from today's game.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Women's Basketball vs. South Florida

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on South Florida at 2:00 p.m. (ET).

The game will be broadcast on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish go for a win on Senior Day.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Courtside with Notre Dame Basketball

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Eric Atkins

Natalie Novosel

Student. Athlete. Irish.

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Twins Nate and Natalie Novosel Share Basketball Bond

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NovoselTwins.jpeg

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Nate and Natalie Novosel weren't separated at birth, but they were born two minutes apart. And boy, are they alike.

Nate is the second-leading basketball scorer at a prestigious university. His team hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament next month.

Natalie is the second-leading scorer at a prestigious university. Her team is definitely headed to NCAAs.

Nate is at the University of Rochester, while Natalie attends Notre Dame, 513 miles away in South Bend, Ind. They were born in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 22, 1989.

"I'm older, and I hold that over her," Nate says with a laugh.

They are close in age, and closer in spirit.

"We moved crosstown (in Lexington, Ky.) when the kids were small, and thought they'd finally have a chance to have their own rooms," says their mom, Jaine (it's pronounced Janey). "One day when they were about 4, I was downstairs and didn't hear any noise. So I went up to check. The first thing I saw was Natalie's mattress sticking upright out of Nate's door. They had moved all of her furniture into his room."

They're no longer roommates, but they do share a bond so deep that they don't need modern technology to prove it.

"We don't text or email every day, because we're so busy," Nate says. "But when we do, it's so natural, and we can talk for hours."

Nate is a 6-foot-5 senior forward for UR (15-7, including 11-0 at home). He averages 12 points and 4.3 rebounds and recently was named to the Capital One Academic All-District team. He carries a 3.75 grade-point average with a double major of economics and political science, and is a teaching assistant in both areas of study.

He spent last summer as an intern for Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) on Capitol Hill.

He's also 14th in career scoring at UR with 1,149 points.

Natalie is a 5-foot-11 senior guard for Notre Dame, ranked No. 4 nationally at 25-2. She averages 14.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Last year, the anthropology major led the Fighting Irish in scoring (15.1 ppg) after averaging just 5 points as a sophomore. She scored in double figures 33 times and hit a scorching 41.3 percent from 3-point range for a Notre Dame team that lost to Texas A&M in the national championship game.

She is one of the elite women's players in the game, and should be one of the top picks in the WNBA draft this April.

The twins are most alike by how driven they are. Nobody outworks Nate or Natalie.

"Our parents (Nick and Jaine) never said, 'You have to do this, this and this,' " Nate says. "But they always made sure we were doing something. To have a goal in mind."

They are most different in temperament.

"Natalie is very carefree, and that's a great attribute for her," Nate says. "I tend to be too serious sometimes. She's a good complement to my seriousness."

Natalie says Nate is simply "a great guy."

"He is the most loyal person you'll ever meet," she says. "He's so trustworthy. You can tell him anything, and he'll always have something to say to help you out."

Their mom agrees with those scouting reports.

"Natalie is a clown in familiar situations, but she has to warm up to things," Jaine says. "Nate considers things more carefully. I'd like to see him laugh more and let his emotions go more easily."

She couldn't be prouder of her twins.

"They have an amazing relationship,'' she says. "They don't need a lot of contact. But they're always there for each other, with a text or phone call."

And their competitive fires still burn, hundreds of miles apart. The other night, Natalie texted Nate after a game.

"I just got 21," she wrote. "What did you get?"

Nate wrote back: "21."

It's hard to believe now, but Natalie was the outsider in this basketball family growing up. Nate and older sister Shannon, a former 6-foot-1 center for Division I Evansville, towered over Natalie and always beat her on a 400 square-foot concrete slab in the backyard.

"I'd lose every game and get so mad," Natalie says.

Nate laughs at the memories.

"We had some great backyard brawls," says Nate, a standout swimmer for eight years before focusing on basketball in high school. "We went to town, just the three of us."

She threw more tantrums than free throws, but in the end, her siblings turned Natalie into a competitive force. And by the time she was a senior at Lexington Catholic, teammates had nicknamed her "Nasty" for her fierce determination.

Their dad played basketball at Kent State, and his three children all inherited the hoops gene, each surpassing 1,000 points in stellar high school careers.

Natalie was recruited by numerous Division I schools and took Nate on her recruiting trip to South Bend. He urged Natalie to sign, telling her, "You can be a star here."

She wasn't, at first, but last season was a breakout year for Natalie and she's only improved this season.

Their dad is an account manager for a small electronics company. Their mom was an architect who became a stay-at-home mom after the twins arrived.

Nick and Jaine try to make as many games in Rochester and South Bend as possible, often combining trips.

Two weeks ago, they drove up to Rochester for a UR game, motored on to Youngstown, Ohio, to spend the night with relatives, then drove to South Bend to see a Notre Dame game the next day.

"I think we've had one open weekend since January," Jaine says.

"It's nuts. But we love it, and we know it's ending soon."

The devoted parents won't be able to witness each child's final home game. "Senior Day" at UR is Saturday, Feb. 25, when the Yellowjackets host Emory. And "Senior Day" at Notre Dame is also Feb. 25, when the Irish host South Florida.

"It's sad," Jaine says. "Nick is going to fly up to see Nathan's last home game, and I'm going to drive to South Bend."

Nate's basketball career is quickly drawing to a close. UR probably has to win its final three games just to have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Either way, he's done after this year.

"It's been great, but it's time to think about my career,'' says Nate, who would like to run for public office some day.

He has accepted Teach for America's offer to teach elementary school in Washington, D.C., a two-year commitment that begins this summer.

"I think it makes a lot of sense for me with my interests in public service and politics," he says.

He may not be alone in the nation's capital. Natalie has been projected to be the eighth pick in the WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics.

"I would love to play there and be with Nathan again," she says.

This time, she promises not to move all of her furniture into his room.

- Jim Mandelaro
It wasn't always pretty, but the #4 Notre Dame women's basketball team played well enough to secure its 25th win of the season - a 66-47 victory over the Providence Friars on Tuesday evening at the Purcell Pavilion.

Providence scored 14 points in the first 6:04 of tonight's game, but the Irish held the Friars to just 33 points over the final 33:56.

Despite piling up 20 turnovers and shooting just 65% from the free throw line, Notre Dame pulled away in the second half, leading by as much as 22 points with under three minutes to play.

Skylar Diggins scored 19 points and dished out seven assists, while Devereaux Peters also chipped in 19 and pulled down 11 rebounds.

It's the 21st double-digit win of the season for head coach Muffet McGraw's team, which improved to 12-1 in the BIG EAST Conference and 25-2 overall.

After a quiet weekend, the Irish will travel to Louisville on Monday, Feb. 20, before returning home against South Florida on Sat, Feb. 25 for the final home game of the season. They'll close out the regular season on Mon, Feb. 27 in Hartford against the second-ranked Connecticut Huskies in a nationally televised contest on ESPN2.

Stay tuned to UND.com for highlights and video from tonight's post-game press conference. We'll be back tomorrow night at 7 pm ET when the men's basketball team looks to avenge its most recent loss - a 65-58 defeat at the hands of Rutgers on Jan. 16. That game will be televised on ESPNU, but we'll have complete live blog coverage right here on Irish UNDerground too.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Irish Look To Bounce Back vs. Friars

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8:47 pm, Irish 66-47, Final: Whitney Holloway hits her first of two free throws in the closing minutes, Providence gets a couple of late baskets and the Irish walk away with a 19-point victory. Stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for post-game coverage.

8:41 pm, Irish 65-43, 2:41 2nd half: Mallory finds a cutting Diggins...She's fouled and makes the first of two shots. Providence responds with a layup from Teya Wright, before Diggins makes an excellent pass to Miller for a layup as the shot clock winds down.

Miller makes one of two free throws to give the Irish a 20-point lead...McBride scores a layup and the Irish call a 30-second timeout. This one is all but over.

8:32 pm, Irish 59-41, 7:13 2nd half: After the under-8 media timeout, Peters hits one of two free throws. Providence gets called for a shot clock violation on the following possession. Fraderica Miller goes down hard for the Irish. She got blindsided and might've been poked in the eye. Slow to get up, but she walks off on her own. A flagrant gets called on Providence, and Novosel goes to shoot the free throws, where she hits the second of two shots.

8:21 pm, Irish 55-38, 10:53 2nd half: Diggins hits Notre Dame's first three-pointer of the game and it's a 17-point Irish lead. Sky and Dev lead the team with 18 points each.

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