March 11, 2013
BIG EAST Conference Championship -- Final
#2/2 [#1 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (30-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST) vs. #3/3 [#2 seed] Connecticut Huskies (29-3 / 14-2 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 12, 2013
TIME: 7 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. - XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 29-10
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: ND 96-87, 3ot (3/4/13)
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color / Allison Williams, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: bigeast.org
#2 Fighting Irish Visit #3 Connecticut In BIG EAST Final Tuesday Night
For the second time in eight days and the third time this season, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut will square off in the latest chapter of women's college basketball's top rivalry, this time with the BIG EAST Championship trophy at stake when they clash in the tournament title game at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN, and it also can be seen worldwide on the WatchESPN platform.
Top-seeded Notre Dame (30-1) booked its third consecutive appearance in the BIG EAST Championship title game (and seventh overall) with a convincing 83-59 win over No. 16/15 (and fourth-seeded) Louisville on Monday night at the XL Center. The Fighting Irish opened the game on a 12-0 run, then used a 25-4 surge early in the second half to swamp the Cardinals and roll to the victory.
Junior guard Kayla McBride led four Notre Dame players in double figures with 17 points, while senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins added 14 points (including 4-of-5 three-pointers), six assists and four steals, and junior forward Natalie Achonwa nearly chalked up her school record-setting 17th double-double of the season before finishing with 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Notre Dame and Connecticut will meet for the 40th time in their storied series history on Tuesday night, with the Huskies holding a 29-10 advantage over the Fighting Irish, including an 18-3 record when playing in the Nutmeg State (either in Storrs or Hartford). This also marks the fourth consecutive season in which the two programs will meet at least three times.
Notre Dame has had the upper hand in the series of late, winning six of the past seven matchups (the best run of success by a Connecticut opponent since Villanova's 14-game winning streak from 1981-89). However, the lone Husky win in that span came in last year's BIG EAST Championship final (63-54 in Hartford), continuing Connecticut's dominance over Notre Dame in the conference tournament title game (6-0 all-time).
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met
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, then five in the second overtime before finally beating the third-ranked Huskies 96-87 in three overtimes on March 4, 2013, at Purcell Pavilion to win BIG EAST regular-season title outright for the second straight year.
The Fighting Irish 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 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 in the second overtime.
The Fighting 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, Notre Dame 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 Fighting Irish managed to win despite going just 1 of 12 from three-point range and being outshot 46 percent to 39 percent, but Notre Dame forced 35 turnovers. Achonwa added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Fighting 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 three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force the second overtime.
The Huskies got up by five in the second overtime, but then had three turnovers and a missed free throw.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn with 26 points, Faris added 21, Stefanie Dolson had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Bria Hartley finished with 10 points.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met In The BIG EAST Championship
Skylar Diggins knows Notre Dame will bounce back from another loss in the BIG EAST title game to Connecticut. After all, the Fighting Irish have a bigger prize in mind.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points, and Bria Hartley added 18 to help No. 4 Connecticut beat the third-ranked Fighting Irish, 63-54 on March 6, 2012, at the XL Center in Hartford, winning its fifth straight BIG EAST Championship title.
"This team's not a team that hangs their head," said Diggins, who led the Fighting Irish with 16 points. "The biggest goal of them all is ahead of us. We're only guaranteed one game. This was a great game going into the (NCAA) tournament. We'll learn from this game."
Senior teammate Natalie Novosel echoed the sentiment.
"It's going to be really important to forget this game and move on and learn from it," she said. "It was definitely one of our goals, and we wanted to achieve it. We got knocked down but we're going to get back up. We're going to look forward and try to get the big one."
Connecticut ended a rare three-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame beat the Huskies in the 2011 national semifinals, then swept the two regular-season meetings in 2011-12.
"It's hard to lose any game," said senior guard Tiffany Hayes, who didn't drop a game in her first two years at Connecticut. "To lose to one team three straight times doesn't sit well. With this team, we just knew we were better than we have played the last couple of games. We were willing to fight till the end."
It's on to the NCAA tournament for the Fighting Irish and the Huskies, where they will both likely be No. 1 seeds.
"I think we have two of the best teams in America coming out of the conference," Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said. "I don't think we take a backseat to anyone ever, I think tonight you saw why."
"It's tough to beat a team three times," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "I don't think we have to do anything different. I don't think there was more pressure on us. I just think they outplayed us."
After the teams met last in the regular-season finale on Feb. 28, also in Hartford, Connecticut was left searching for answers with Notre Dame winning 72-59 on the Huskies' home floor. The Huskies found them in Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis, who was selected the tournament's most outstanding player.
Connecticut was trailing 36-33 early in the second half, when the pair scored all 10 points during a 10-1 run. Mosqueda-Lewis had a floater and a jump shot. Hartley finished it off with the last six points, the final two coming after she stole the ball at midcourt and then made an acrobatic layup.
Notre Dame closed to 46-43 with 8:46 left on Kayla McBride's three-pointer, but couldn't complete the comeback.
Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley hit back-to-back baskets and UConn held Notre Dame without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes after Diggins' lay-in made it 50-45 with 7:05 left. Diggins finally ended the drought with 1:35 remaining, but UConn hit its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The Huskies led 27-17 before Notre Dame closed the first half on a 13-4 burst. Kaila Turner's 3-pointer with a second left made it 31-30 at the break.
Notre Dame kept the run going, scoring six of the first eight points of the second half to take a 36-33 lead on Devereaux Peters' layup. Then Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis took over.
"We allowed them to get some looks early on and they got some confidence," McGraw said of Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis. "They were able to knock down some shots and get their confidence up and gain momentum."
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
The Brains Of The Operation
Tuesday's two head coaches -- Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma -- have more than a few connections. Both are from the Philadephia metro area (McGraw from West Chester, Auriemma from Norristown), both cut their coaching teeth at Saint Joseph's under current Ohio State head coach Jim Foster (McGraw replaced Auriemma on Foster's staff in 1980 when Auriemma left to take an assistant position at Virginia), and both are members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw having been enshrined in June 2011.
McGraw also is the only coach in the nation with 10 wins against Auriemma since the start of the 2000-01 season. What's more, McGraw is one of just three coaches all-time to have 10 or more victories against Auriemma on his/her resume, joining current Villanova coach Harry Perretta (14) and former Providence coach Bob Foley (10) in that elite company.
By comparison, three of the most notable women's basketball coaches in history (all of whom have had, or continue to have, longer tenures than McGraw and all of whom are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame) don't have as many wins against Auriemma as McGraw does -- Tennessee's Pat Summitt (9), Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer (8) and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer (6).
The Rare Air Up There
With its 77-67 win at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 28, Notre Dame made NCAA Division I history in two ways. The Fighting Irish not only became the first school ever to defeat both Connecticut and Tennessee in three consecutive seasons, but they also were the first program in the NCAA era (since 1981-82) to defeat both the Huskies and Lady Vols on the road in the same season (the latter victory was Notre Dame's first in nine games against UT in Knoxville).
Starting with its 2011 NCAA Elite Eight win over Tennessee in Dayton, Ohio, Notre Dame has gone a combined 9-1 against Connecticut and Tennessee, with no other senior class at any school having compiled that many wins against those two traditional powers since 1988-89 (when Connecticut made its first NCAA postseason appearance) -- Rutgers' Class of 2008 (which features Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson, among others) is next-closest with six wins over those two programs.
Fighting Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its 18th BIG EAST Championship this weekend, having compiled a 23-17 (.575) record all-time. The Fighting Irish now have reached the semifinals in 11 of its 18 years in the conference and advanced to the title game seven times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013). However, Notre Dame is 0-6 in BIG EAST finals, losing each time to Connecticut.
In addition, this will be the sixth of Notre Dame's seven BIG EAST championship game appearances to come when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 on the UConn campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs; 2011, 2012 and 2013 in Hartford).
Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame was a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now known as the Horizon League). During its seven-year affiliation with that conference, the Fighting Irish won the MCC Tournament five times, with Notre Dame's most recent conference tourney title (of any kind) coming in 1994, following a 72-63 championship game win over Xavier at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Other BIG EAST Championship Tidbits
The (Somewhat) Friendly Confines
The Fighting Irish having a 12-13 (.480) all-time record at the XL Center (formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center). However, take out a 1-8 record against Connecticut (which uses the building as one of its home courts during the regular season) and Notre Dame has a winning record (11-5, .688) all-time in Hartford.
Of the 25 games the Fighting Irish have played at the XL Center, 20 of them have come during BIG EAST Championship play, with Notre Dame sporting a 11-9 (.550) record since the tournament moved to Hartford in 2004.
The other five XL Center games include four regular season matchups with Connecticut (2000, 2002, 2009, 2012) and a 2004 NCAA Sweet 16 contest with Penn State (55-49 loss).
With Monday's BIG EAST Championship semifinal victory over No. 16/15 Louisville, Notre Dame has reached the 30-win mark for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in program history. Prior to last year, the Fighting Irish had never had back-to-back 30-win seasons, with its four prior campaigns of at least 30 victories coming in 1996-97 (31-7), 2000-01 (34-2), 2010-11 (31-8) and 2011-12 (35-4).
Notre Dame has set a school record with its current 25-game winning streak, topping the previous program mark for consecutive victories, set by the 2000-01 club that opened the season with 23 consecutive wins from Nov. 17, 2000-Feb. 14, 2001.
Notre Dame has strung together 13 double-digit winning streaks in the program's 36-year history, with 11 of those coming during the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw (1987-88 to present).
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Notre Dame has played 47 times when it has had a short one-day break (or less) between games.
When faced with such a tight turnaround, the Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion in recent seasons, going 38-9 (.809) on the back half of these two-game (or more) blitzes during the past five years.
Notre Dame is 10-0 on short rest this season, including six wins over ranked opponents -- at No. 9 Tennessee (Jan. 28 on ESPN2's "Big Monday"), home vs. No. 10/11 Louisville (Feb. 11, also on "Big Monday"), No. 22/20 Syracuse (Feb. 26) and No. 3 Connecticut (March 4, likewise on "Big Monday"), and against No. 22 Texas A&M (Dec. 21, as part of a successful three-game run to the World Vision Classic title in Las Vegas) and No. 16/15 Louisville (March 11 in BIG EAST Championship semifinals at Hartford).
Spreading The Wealth
Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures in 19 games this year, going 19-0 in those contests. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish are 71-4 (.947) when they have four or more players reach double digits in the scoring column, including an active 41-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul).
Game #31 Recap: Louisville (BIG EAST Championship Semifinal)
Notre Dame is back in the BIG EAST Championship title game for a third straight season and the Fighting Irish hope their luck is about to change.
"It would mean a lot for our program," Diggins said. "The first ever would be great. This year we're hoping it would be wonderful to get one for coach (Muffet) McGraw. It's the one thing we're missing besides a national championship."
Notre Dame has now reached the title game seven times since joining the conference in 1995, but the Irish have lost the previous six to perennial BIG EAST powerhouse Connecticut.
"We wanted to play in South Bend," McGraw said laughing. "For us we're going in with the same mindset that we did with both the games this year. It's tough to beat a team three times in a year. It's going to be another battle and war. Regardless of the outcome it will get us ready for the NCAA tournament, win or lose."
The top-seeded Fighting Irish extended a school record with their 25th straight victory. Only top-ranked Baylor, which handed Notre Dame its only loss this season, has a longer active winning streak.
The Fighting Irish (30-1) led the Cardinals by six at the half before opening the second period with a 13-2 run to take command. Louisville coach Jeff Walz got the play he wanted to start the second half when Antonita Slaughter had an open three-point attempt, which she missed.
"It's a six-point game at the half and if that goes in it's a three-point game," he said. "We have some momentum in our favor. She couldn't make it then they started scoring some in transition. They did a really nice job in scoring when they needed to."
It only got worse for Louisville (24-8) as its deficit kept expanding. Notre Dame's lead ballooned to 31 before Louisville closed the gap against the Fighting Irish reserves. Shoni Schimmel scored 20 points and Sara Hammond added 12 to lead the Cardinals.
Notre Dame had no trouble with Louisville. With the exception of a five-minute stretch in the first half, the Fighting Irish were in firm command.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-0 lead before Schimmel started heating up, tying it at 16 on her second three-pointer of the opening half. Diggins answered with two threes of her own to make it 26-20 and the Fighting Irish led 32-26 at the half.
Beyond The Box Score -- Louisville