Jan. 5, 2013
STORRS, Conn. (AP) – Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame just seem to have Connecticut’s number.
The Irish have turned one of the best rivalries in women’s basketball into a one-sided affair lately, winning five of the past six meetings.
The senior All-American scored 19 points hitting big shot after big shot in the second half to lift fifth-ranked Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory over the top-ranked Huskies on Saturday.
This was the latest victory for the Irish (12-1, 1-0 BIG EAST), who also ended UConn’s season the past two years by beating the Huskies in past two Final Fours.
“I think when we play them, there is a lot on the line, whether it is a BIG EAST Championship or them being ranked higher than us or in the Final Four,” Diggins said. “This is good for us.”
No team has had this kind of success against UConn in the past 20 years.
The last team to beat UConn five out of six times was Miami back in the early 1990s – before the Huskies started winning national championships.
The Irish were expected to be down this season with three starters graduated. It didn’t matter with Diggins still on the team.
With UConn poised to pull away in the second half, Diggins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep her team in the game.
Later with the shot clock about to run out, Diggins hit a leaner from the wing.
Finally, with the Irish down by one with 49 seconds left, she got fouled on a drive and calmly sank both free throws. It would be the last points of the game.
“I think Skylar has changed things for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She believed we can win and has the confidence and that is contagious.”
The Huskies (12-1, 0-1) had a few chances to pull out the win in the final 30 seconds, but in front of a sellout crowd of 10,127, they fell short.
Breanna Stewart had her shot blocked in the lane. The Huskies maintained possession and then after a timeout, Stewart missed a jumper from the top of the key. Kelly Faris grabbed the rebound giving UConn one more chance, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis caught the ball in the corner and her wide-open 3 fell off the rim.
The Irish grabbed the loose ball and Diggins ran out the clock.
“How many times can we put up our defense,” McGraw said. “I thought about our football team getting that goal line stand (against Stanford) three times in a row, if they can do it, we can do it.”
The Irish women were headed down South after the game to get ready for Tuesday’s contest against South Florida. Notre Dame was going to first spend a day in Orlando.
McGraw laughed at the thought that her team would head to Disney World after beating the No. 1 team in the country. She put the victory in perspective.
“It’s great to win when they are ranked No. 1,” she said. “It’s great for our team, but it’s still January 5. We’re just trying to get better.”
The Huskies had come into the game unbeaten and a week earlier had stunned then-No. 1 Stanford 61-35 on the Cardinal’s homecourt ending their 82-game home winning streak. They had already beaten five ranked teams by an average of 24 points.
“It’s definitely been an up and down week” said Stefanie Dolson, who scored 17 points to lead Connecticut. “We were all extremely excited and on a high when we beat Stanford the way we did. We came into this game and we weren’t ready. I don’t think we were ready for how hard Notre Dame was going to come at us. They out-toughed us.”
UConn trailed by two at the half and took a 48-44 lead on Dolson’s layup with 16:18 left in the game. The Huskies led 63-60 with 8 minutes left before Notre Dame scored five quick points. Neither team could get more than a two-point lead the rest of the way.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was OK with the shots his team got in the end.
“You got the best 3-point shooter in the country with a wide open 3 to win it and it doesn’t go in,” he said. “I’d be more upset if the wrong guy took the wrong shot at the wrong time. We came out of timeout and got the shot we wanted and it didn’t go in.”
Mosqueda-Lewis finished with 17 points.
Stewart, the high school player of the year last season, scored all 10 of her points in the second half after missing her first five shots. She also had six blocks and nine rebounds.
“She looked out of sorts a little bit, struggled a little bit,” Auriemma said. “But then again you think about what she did, 10 points, nine rebounds, six blocks, that’s not a bad day. I think that’s what we expect from her. Shots she missed we come to expect she’ll make all those.”
The Irish won both regular-season meetings last year, before being blown out in the Big East championship game. They won the decisive meeting in the Final Four, 83-75, in overtime.
Notre Dame’s lone defeat this season came at home to No. 2 Baylor, 73-61, on Dec. 5.
The two teams, who have played 12 times over the past four seasons, will play again in South Bend on March 4, in the final game of the regular season.
It’s not certain if the two teams will play again after Notre Dame leaves for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
UConn led 18-15 midway through the first half before Notre Dame went on a 12-2 run sparked by Kayla McBride, who led Notre Dame with 21 points. She had back-to-back jumpers. Michaela Mabrey hit a 3-pointer and Natalie Achonwa a free throw to cap the burst.
Mabrey’s second 3-pointer of the half gave the Irish a 34-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the half before UConn closed with a 12-4 burst to make it 38-36 at the break.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Saturday marks the first time in school history the Fighting Irish have defeated a top-ranked team on its home floor … Notre Dame improves to 4-19 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, with all four victories coming against Connecticut (others were 92-76 on Jan. 15, 2001 at ND; 90-75 on March 30, 2001 in NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at St. Louis; 72-63 on April 3, 2011 in NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals at Indianapolis) … Notre Dame earns its first win at Gampel Pavilion on the Connecticut campus since Jan. 30, 2005, when the Fighting Irish defeated the Huskies, 65-59 … Notre Dame has won five of the past six series games against Connecticut, becoming the first program with such an extended run of success against the Huskies since the early 1990s when former BIG EAST Conference member Miami (Fla.) pulled off a similar stretch of five wins in six games … the Fighting Irish have nine wins over Connecticut since the start of the 2000-01 season, nearly twice as many as any other Husky opponent in that 13-year span (Rutgers in next closest with five victories) … Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw now has nine career coaching wins against her Connecticut counterpart, Geno Auriemma, becoming one of only four coaches (and two active) in history to lead her/his team to at least nine victories against Auriemma’s UConn teams — the others are Villanova’s Harry Perretta (11), former Providence head coach Bob Foley (10) and Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt (9) … Notre Dame is 6-4 all-time against Connecticut when both teams are ranked in the top five, and 8-7 against the Huskies when both teams are ranked in the top 10 … UConn still leads the all-time series, 29-9, with the 38 games making the rivalry the most frequent in Fighting Irish women’s basketball history … Notre Dame and Connecticut were playing for the 12th time since 2009-10 and the ninth time in the past two-plus seasons (2010-11 to present) … in the past nine series games, seven have been decided by single digits, two went to overtime and three saw the losing team with a shot to tie or win the game in the final seconds of regulation … the Fighting Irish are 5-1 against ranked teams this season and 3-1 against current/former national champions (having also defeated 1999 victor Purdue and 2011 winner Texas A&M) … Notre Dame is off to a 12-1 start for the fifth time in six seasons and seventh time in school history (all since start of 2000-01 campaign) … Notre Dame rises to 14-4 (.778) all-time in BIG EAST openers, including wins in 12 of their last 14 conference lidlifters and an active seven-game winning streak … the Fighting Irish are 2-4 all-time when playing on CBS, having each of the past two years it has played on the Tiffany Network (both against Connecticut) … Notre Dame had four or more players score in double figures for the 10th time in 13 games this season (all wins), and improves to 62-4 (.939) since the start of the 2009-10 season with at least four double-digit scorers, including an active 32-game winning streak … junior guard Kayla McBride scored a career-high 21 points, one more than her previous best on Dec. 30, 2010, against Loyola Marymount at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle … junior forward Natalie Achonwa registered her BIG EAST-leading eighth double-double of the season, and her fifth in six games against a ranked opponent … freshman guard Michaela Mabrey scored in double figures for the third time this season and second consecutive game … Mabrey set a season high with three three-point field goals … with four steals on Saturday, senior guard Skylar Diggins moved into a tie for second place on Notre Dame’s career steals list with 307, matching the output by former Fighting Irish assistant coach/current Penn State head coach Coquese Washington from 1989-93 … Diggins made her 120th career start on Saturday, taking over sole possession of fourth on the Notre Dame career list, passing Jacqueline Batteast (119 from 2001-05) … the Fighting Irish are 96-2 (.980) in the past four seasons when they lead at halftime (12-0 this year; 259-19 since the start of the 2000-01 season).