April 9, 2014
Unbeaten and second-ranked Notre Dame had hopes of retaining its perfect women's basketball record tonight in the NCAA Women's Basketball Championships title game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. But the Irish (37-1) had the misfortune of running into another unbeaten, top-rated Connecticut, and the Huskies walked out with a 79-58 victory.
It marked the second time in three years the Irish fell in the NCAA title game against an opponent with a perfect record (Baylor in 2012) and the third trip to the final game overall in four years for Notre Dame. This Muffet McGraw team ended up with more wins than any Irish team in history.
Here's what happened tonight on a minute-by-minute basis:
5:50 p.m. - It's 10 minutes until the arena opens its doors, but the main entrance is swarming with fans waiting to enter, as a country band belts out tunes.
6:10 p.m. - The next time you're at Bridgestone Arena, try a Whitt's BBQ bowl--a nifty concoction with bread on the bottom topped by layers of pulled pork (or chicken), mac and cheese, cole slaw, then drizzled with BBQ sauce.
6:20 p.m. - It's more than an hour until game time but a handful of Irish players already are at the east basket shooting. The Irish are wearing new blue postseason uniforms (with green numbers and lots of green trim) for the first time in the NCAA Championships.
6:31 p.m. - Seven Connecticut players take the floor at the west end of the floor.
6:33 p.m. - The rest of the Irish hit the hardwood, to an encouraging cheer from Notre Dame fans.
6:35 p.m. - Dressed in a hard-to-miss bright orange top (a nod to the in-state Tennessee Lady Vols?) Natalie Achonwa limps onto the court, her crutches in hand, and grabs a seat on the bench.
6:50 .m. - Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., University of Notre Dame president, arrives at Bridgestone. Sitting near him are vice president/General Counsel Marianne Corr, vice president for university relations Lou Nanni, College of Science dean Greg Crawford, vice president for communications Paul Browne and NCAA faculty representative Tricia Bellia.
6:51 p.m. - The Band of the Fighting Irish springs to life.
6:56 p.m. -The "Victory March" rings out for the first time.
7:05 p.m. - Former Notre Dame administrator Charmelle Green, now at Penn State, enters the Irish section and enjoys reunions with lots of former Irish players.
7:08 p.m. - The Irish exit the floor to a big ovation.
7:12 p.m. - Highlights of Ruth Riley and Notre Dame's 2001 championship air on the video board and the Irish crowd reacts, to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger."
7:18 p.m. - A few minutes after UConn, the Irish return to the floor for their formal warm-ups.
7:20 p.m. - The same welcome videos that aired Sunday hit the boards again, featuring Notre Dame and UConn coaches and players.
7:25 p.m. - Achonwa stands on the court and exchanges overhead passes with Ariel Braker.
7:30 p.m. - The all-time Final Four coaches are shown on the video board and there are cheers for Muffet McGraw, then Geno Auriemma, with the most reserved for Tennessee's Pat Summitt.
7:35 p.m. - McGraw steps onto the floor followed by an ESPN camera.
7:36 p.m. - With less than two minutes on the clock the Irish players gather at the free-throw line for their Irish jig.
7:38 p.m. - Two massive American flags nearly cover the floor. Nashville artist and "The Voice" winner Cassadee Pope sings the National Anthem.
7:43 p.m. - The Irish intros feature Lindsay Allen, then Jewell Loyd, Kayla McBride, Braker and Taya Reimer.
7:45 p.m. - McGraw and Auriemma shake hands and exchange a few words.
7:46 p.m. - UConn wins the tip and Stephanie Dolson scores to make it 2-0.
7:48 p.m. - A Breanna Stewart tip makes it 4-0, then Reimer responds for the Irish. Moriah Jefferson guards McBride, with Bria Hartley on Loyd. After the Huskies score on their first three possessions, they finally miss.
7:50 p.m. -- At 17:27 the first foul of the game goes against Dolson on the offensive end. A McBride hoop ties it at six. The Irish have a shot at the lead, but a three-second lane violation calls a halt to that chance.
7:51 p.m. -- McBride on the fast break gives the Irish a lead at 8-6. But the Huskies get the next six points for a 12-8 edge at the first official timeout at the 14:37 mark. The video board shows Stewart's WBCA All-America feature. Braker comes in for Reimer and guards Stewart.
7:57 p.m. - At 13:25 Dolson makes it 16-8 and then her lay-in at 12:09 takes it to 18-8, as the Irish struggle for rebounds. At the 11:30 timeout the video board shows Irish stat highlights, including the record of Notre Dame's senior class--and the 46 Irish NCAA wins ranking seventh nationally. Eventually another Stewart bucket puts the Huskies up 22-8 as they score 16 straight points.
8:03 p.m. - A Loyd hoop at the 10:47 mark finally ends the Irish drought.
8:05 p.m. - Loyd hits a free throw, McBride drives to the rim for two and Loyd makes two free throws to cut the margin to 24-15.
8:09 p.m. - The scoreboard graphic shows UConn at 8-0 in previous title games. But the Irish respond. Michaela Mabrey hits for three and then McBride does the same for a 29-23 score.
8:17 p.m. - At the 3:53 timeout, the Huskies are on top 37-25. McBride scores out of the break, then Mabrey makes a three to put the total at 37-30 (Mabrey has 10 points).
8:20 p.m. - With 20 seconds left Loyd's three makes it a five-point game, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' hoop at :05 makes the halftime margin 45-38 for Connecticut. At the break McBride has 13 points, Loyd 11, Mabrey 10. For the Huskies, it's 14 points for Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis and 10 for Dolson.
8:45 p.m. - Reimer scores on the fast break from Loyd to keep it at 47-40, but from there Connecticut goes on a 16-2 run that has lots to do with deciding the game.
9:04 p.m. - At the 11:25 media timeout, the Irish find themselves outscored 18-4 after the break.
9:08 p.m. - The Irish try some zone defense and a Braker basket makes it 63-44, but the Irish have a long way to go.
9:12 p.m. - At the 7:59 media timeout it's 64-45 for the Huskies. McBride's WBCA All-America video runs on the board and the band plays the "Victory March."
9:21 p.m. - At the final media break at 3:46 it's still 69-47 for Connecticut, as the Irish have scored only nine points this half. Notre Dame to this point is 18 of 56 from the field, and only three of 19 in the second half.
9:26 p.m. - McBride knocks down a three to give her 19 points, but Stewart responds at the other end.
9:29 p.m. - McBride hits a pair from the line and finishes with 21 points. Dolson (17 points) leaves at 1:01. Mosqueda-Lewis (18 points) and Stewart (21 points, nine rebounds) depart at :43.9.
9:32 p.m. - McBride leaves the court at the :17.4 stoppage.
9:35 p.m. - Connecticut wins 79-58, Auriemma and McGraw trade handshakes and comments--and confetti falls on the Irish players as they leave the court. At the end, the rebound margin the Irish enjoyed Sunday is reversed, as Connecticut finishes with a 54-31 advantage in that category. The Huskies are too big and too long.
It's an amazing run for the 2013-14 Irish women--as they finish one step short of perfection.