March 4, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Skylar Diggins found another way to beat Connecticut - maybe the toughest way yet.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish trailed by six in the first overtime Monday night, then five in the second overtime before finally beating the third-ranked Huskies 96-87 in three overtimes Monday night to win BIG EAST regular-season title outright for the second straight year.
"We were done in regulation and the first and second overtimes. We just clawing away and got them to miss some free throws," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "What a battle."
The Fighting Irish (28-1, 16-0) went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96 and became the first team to win six of seven games against Connecticut (27-3, 14-2) in more than two decades. Diggins finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kayla McBride added a career-high 26 points before fouling out.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with his team's effort, but disappointed the Huskies couldn't come up with a big play when they needed one.
"We couldn't finish it off," he said. "Every opportunity we had to put it away we let it slip away from us."
The Irish took their first lead in overtime when Kaila Turner hit a free throw 18 seconds into the third overtime. After Kelly Faris answered with a bank shot for the Huskies to regain the lead, the Irish took over. Ariel Braker starter it with a free throw, then Jewell Loyd muscled in a basket inside and nearly a minute later added a pair of free throws to give the Irish an 87-83 lead. Diggins then stole the ball from Breanna Stewart and scored on a fastbreak layup, then Braker, Diggins and Natalie Achonwa each made two free throws to put the game away.
The Irish managed to win despite going just 1 of 12 from 3-point range and being outshot 46 percent to 39 percent, but the Irish forced 35 turnovers. Achonwa added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Irish.
The Huskies missed three free throws in the first overtime, including one by Morgan Tuck that would have given the Huskies a four-point lead with 13 seconds left.
McBride then hit Notre Dame's only 3-pointer with 8 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force the second overtime.
"I saw they were double-teaming Sky and I had taken the ball out and it was basically a one-on-one situation," McBride said. "I saw an opening and took it."
Diggins, playing in her final game before her hometown crowd, said the Irish never gave up.
"We're all competitors from the head coach all the way down to the end of the bench. And we always feel like we can find a way to win," she said. "That's the mindset of our team."
The Huskies got up by five in the second overtime, but then had three turnovers and a missed free throw.
"How many chances can you have?" Auriemma asked. "You're on the road against a really good team. You might get one chance. You might get two chances when it really matters. But you're not going to get unlimited chances."
Especially with Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley sitting on the bench after fouling out in the closing seconds of regulation. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn with 26 points, Faris added 21, Dolson had 12 points and Hartley finished with 10.
McGraw said she was pleased with her team's resilience.
"An amazing win," McGraw said.
The Irish head to Hartford next week seeking to win their first BIG EAST tournament title. The Irish have won 23 straight, matching a school record set by the national championship team in 2000-01.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame wins its second consecutive outright BIG EAST Conference regular season title, becoming just the second team other than Connecticut to pull off that feat since the BIG EAST began sponsoring women's basketball as a sport in 1982-83 (Rutgers won outright crowns in 2004-05 and 2005-06) ... the Fighting Irish win back-to-back outright conference titles for the first time since 1993-94 and 1994-95 when they were members of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League) ... Notre Dame completes a conference season undefeated (16-0) for the second time in program history and first since 1989-90, when the Fighting Irish ran the table to win the MCC/Horizon League regular season title (also 16-0) ... Notre Dame is just the third BIG EAST program other than Connecticut to go undefeated in a single conference season -- the others were Rutgers in 2005-06 (16-0) and Miami (Fla.) in 1991-92 (18-0) ... Notre Dame has tied a school record with its 23rd consecutive win, matching the winning streak set by the 2000-01 squad that won its first 23 games of that season en route to the program's first national championship ... the Fighting Irish also tied last year's school record with 28 regular-season wins ... Notre Dame will carry a 20-game conference regular-season winning streak into next season ... Notre Dame is the first school to defeat Connecticut six times in a seven-game span since 1981-89, when Villanova won its first 14 games against the Huskies ... this year's Fighting Irish senior class (guards/co-captains Skylar Diggins and Kaila Turner) have more combined wins against Connecticut and Tennessee (9) in their careers than any senior class since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA tournament appearance) -- the next closest group is the Rutgers Class of 2008 with six combined wins against the Huskies and Lady Vols ... Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw becomes just the third coach ever to defeat her Connecticut counterpart Geno Auriemma 10 times in his/her career -- the others are Villanova's Harry Perretta (14) and former Providence coach Bob Foley (10) ... McGraw's 10 wins over Auriemma since 2000-01 are double the total of the next coach on that list (five by Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer) ... Notre Dame is 9-1 this season against ranked opponents (4-1 against top-10 teams) and has won its last six in a row ... Connecticut's lead in the all-time series is now 29-10, with a 9-4 edge at Purcell Pavilion ... in the 10 series meetings since the start of the 2010-11 season, eight have been decided by single digits, including the first three in series history to go to overtime ... Notre Dame is 7-4 all-time against Connecticut when both teams are ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll ... the Fighting Irish are the first team to score 90 points in a game against Connecticut since March 30, 2001, when Notre Dame defeated the Huskies, 90-75 in the NCAA Women's Final Four national semifinals at the Savvis (now Scottrade) Center in St. Louis ... the Fighting Irish are 37-9 (.804) in the past five seasons when playing a second game on one day's rest, as well as 9-0 in such games this season (five of those nine victories coming against ranked teams, three on ESPN2's "Big Monday" against No. 9 Tennessee, No. 10/11 Louisville and No. 3 Connecticut) ... this marked the first triple-overtime game in Notre Dame women's basketball history -- the Fighting Irish had played four double-overtime games previously (going 2-2 in those contests), the last on Nov. 18, 2010, when they dropped an 86-83 decision to 15th-ranked UCLA at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame last won a multiple-overtime game on Nov. 30, 1997, defeating UCLA, 93-91 in two overtimes at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif. ... the Fighting Irish won their first multiple-OT game at home since Jan. 9, 1992, when they edged Dayton, 76-70 in two overtimes at Purcell Pavilion ... prior to Saturday, there had been just one triple-overtime game in BIG EAST Conference women's basketball history (Georgetown 90, Miami-Fla. 88 on Feb. 9, 1993, in Washington, D.C.), but the conference has now had two 3OT thrillers in a three-day span, with Villanova pulling out a 77-75 win in three overtimes at Syracuse this past Saturday ... Notre Dame's 89 field goal attempts are fourth-most in school history (most in its Division I era) and most since Nov. 11, 1978, when the Fighting Irish tried 91 shots against Clark College at Purcell Pavilion ... Notre Dame forced Connecticut into an opponent season-high 35 turnovers, also the most in the history of the Huskies' women's basketball program ... Diggins not only set a school record for minutes played in a game (all 55 minutes), but she also tied the school record and set the arena record for field goal attempts in a game (current associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham took 31 shots on March 4, 1997, at Connecticut, while three players had tried 25 shots at Purcell Pavilion, the last being Jacqueline Batteast against Michigan State on Dec. 2, 2004) ... Diggins becomes the first Notre Dame player in more than six years to record consecutive 25-point games -- Charel Allen did it in three consecutive games from Feb. 11-17, 2007 (25 vs. DePaul; 25 at Villanova; 26 at Providence) ... Diggins registered her third double-double of the season and ninth of her career, paced by a season-high 11 rebounds ... for the second time in less than a week, junior guard Kayla McBride posted a new career scoring high, topping her old mark from Feb. 26 (25 against Syracuse); McBride also had a career high in Notre Dame's first meeting at Connecticut this year with a (then) personal-best 21 points ... junior forward Ariel Braker pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds, exceeding her previous best set on two occasions (the last vs. Kansas State on Dec. 20 in Las Vegas) ... Notre Dame welcomed its school-record 11th sellout of the season on Monday night (as well as its ninth in its final 10 home games) -- the Fighting Irish finished their 2012-13 home schedule averaging a school-record 8,979 fans per game, surpassing last year's average of 8,571 ... Notre Dame is the top seed for this year's BIG EAST Championship and will have a double-bye through to the tournament quarterfinals, where it will play at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday live on ESPNU at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., against the winner of the second-round game between eighth-seeded South Florida and No. 9 seed Rutgers.