March 7, 2011
2010-11 ND Women’s Basketball: Game 33
BIG EAST Conference Championship — Final
#10/8 [#3 seed] Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-6 / 13-3 BIG EAST) vs. #1/1 [#1 seed] Connecticut Huskies (31-1 / 16-0 BIG EAST)
DATE: March 8, 2011
TIME: 7 p.m. ET
AT: Hartford, Conn. – XL Center (16,294)
SERIES: UCONN leads 27-4
1ST MTG: UCONN 87-64 (1/18/96)
LAST MTG: UCONN 78-57 (2/19/11)
TV: ESPN/ESPNHD (live) (Beth Mowins, p-b-p / Rebecca Lobo, color / Brooke Weisbrod, sideline)
RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) / UND.com (live) (Bob Nagle, p-b-p)
LIVE STATS: UND.com / bigeast.org
- Notre Dame is making its fifth appearance in the BIG EAST Championship final, with the Fighting Irish seeking their first conference tournament title of any kind since earning the 1994 Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) tournament crown.
- Connecticut will be the sixth different top-10 opponent, and 12th ranked opponent overall, on Notre Dame’s schedule this season.
BIG EAST Title On The Line As No. 10/8 Irish Meets No. 1 Connecticut For Third Time
Less than 24 hours after its most important win of the season to date, No. 10/8 Notre Dame will aim for an even larger victory, as the Fighting Irish square off with top-ranked Connecticut for the third time this season at 7 p.m. (ET) Tuesday in the BIG EAST Championship final at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. It’s the first BIG EAST title game appearance for Notre Dame since 2001, but the fifth since the program moved to the conference 16 seasons ago.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (26-6) lived up to their nickname — and then some — on Monday night, battling tooth and nail with No. 9/13 DePaul for the second time in a week before finally edging past the No. 2 seed Blue Demons, 71-67. Notre Dame closed the game on a 7-2 run in the final 87 seconds to avenge a last-second loss to DePaul in Chicago only seven days earlier, a defeat that cost the Fighting Irish the second seed and sole possession of second place in the BIG EAST standings.
Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins scored a team-high 19 points for Notre Dame, including the go-ahead basket with 1:27 left, and then delivered the last of her four assists, a critical helper to freshman forward Natalie Achonwa for a layup with 41.6 seconds to go that put the Fighting Irish in the driver’s seat. Two seniors also played pivotal roles in the victory, with forward Devereaux Peters chalking up 15 points and nine rebounds (coming one board shy of a double-double for the second night in a row), and guard Brittany Mallory adding nine points and forcing a key turnover with 10.8 seconds left before clinching the win by making two foul shots with 2.5 seconds to play.
- Notre Dame is ranked No. 10 in the current Associated Press poll and was No. 8 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today poll (new coaches’ poll to come out Tuesday afternoon before game).
- Connecticut is ranked No. 1 in the current Associated Press poll and was No. 1 in last week’s ESPN/USA Today poll (new coaches’ poll to come out Tuesday afternoon before game).
The Notre Dame-Connecticut Series
Although the two sides did not face one another prior to Notre Dame joining the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, they have more than made up for lost time, playing 31 times in the ensuing 15-plus seasons. Connecticut leads the series, 27-4, including a current 11-game winning streak that matches the Huskies’ longest run of success in the series (the first 11 games from 1996-2000).
Connecticut also is 16-1 all-time against Notre Dame in the Nutmeg State (either in Storrs or Hartford), with the lone Fighting Irish road victory in the series coming on Jan. 30, 2005 (a 65-59 triumph at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs).
Tuesday will mark the fifth time the teams have met in the BIG EAST Championship final, with the Huskies winning the previous four — 71-54 in 1996, 86-77 in 1997, 96-75 in 1999 and 78-76 in 2001.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met
Bria Hartley had been struggling on offense so she changed her approach and just took what she was given.
The move worked as she scored a career-high 29 points to help No. 2 Connecticut to a 78-57 win over eighth-ranked Notre Dame on Feb. 19 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
Maya Moore added 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies (26-1, 13-0 BIG EAST). Skylar Diggins scored 22 points and Natalie Novosel added 18 to lead Notre Dame (22-5, 11-2), which had its nine-game winning streak end.
On Jan. 8, UConn rallied for a 79-76 victory over the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame had won every game since by at least 15 points and had a week to prepare for this game.
One thing that Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw might have noticed during the week was that so many teams get blown out at UConn before the first media timeout. Duke and Oklahoma were already out of their games by the 16-minute mark.
McGraw decided to take her team off the court while the Huskies were being introduced. The move paid off as the Fighting Irish scored the first seven points before Stefanie Dolson got the Huskies on the board nearly 2 1/2 minutes in with a hook shot.
Notre Dame — wearing its alternate road green uniforms for the first time this season — couldn’t sustain the early wave of momentum as UConn rallied behind its freshmen. Dolson and Hartley combined for 18 of the team’s first 24 points. Dolson finished with 15.
Hartley’s three-pointer gave UConn its first lead at 17-16. That started a 10-1 spurt in which Hartley scored the first eight points. Dolson capped it with another hook shot.
Hartley, whose previous career high was 24 points against Louisville, had struggled the previous six games. She had reached double figures only once in that span, but against Notre Dame, she achieved double digits midway through the first half.
Moore, who passed Crystal Kelly of Western Kentucky to move into 14th on the career scoring list, got off to a slow start. She missed her first three shots and didn’t have her first points until making a tough runner in the lane with 5:29 left in the half.
That seemed to get her going a little bit as she hit a three-pointer from the wing after Notre Dame cut its deficit to 30-25.
The Huskies led 37-29 at the half as Diggins kept the Fighting Irish in the game with 17 points by the break. That’s the most an opposing player has scored in the first half against the Huskies this season — and more than Providence (12) and Duke (15) put up as a team.
Tiffany Hayes and Moore hit back-to-back threes to start the second half and UConn extended its lead to 23. The Fighting Irish couldn’t get within 14 the rest of the game.
Devereaux Peters, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the earlier meeting, was held scoreless. She picked up two quick fouls and sat out the final 14-plus minutes of the first half.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met In The BIG EAST Championship
Tina Charles, Maya Moore and the latest Connecticut Huskies’ dynasty now has its own place in the record books.
Charles scored 16 points and Moore added 11 to help top-ranked Connecticut win an NCAA-record 71st straight game — a 59-44 victory over No. 6 Notre Dame on March 8, 2010, in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship in Hartford, Conn.
Notre Dame kept it close for a half.
UConn only led 25-22 at the break — its lowest scoring output in nearly three years. The Huskies then asserted themselves, led by Kalana Greene.
The senior hit just one of eight shots in the first 20 minutes, but scored the first four points of a decisive 13-4 run that gave UConn a 49-35 lead with 9:00 left. Moore’s deep three-pointer capped the spurt. Greene finished the game with 15 points.
Notre Dame, which was led by Skylar Diggins’ 10 points, was only able to close to 10. For 20 minutes it looked as if Notre Dame might have some of its traditional luck of the Irish. It was a sloppy first half as neither team could put together a sustained run. The Huskies took their biggest lead of the half on Caroline Doty’s three-pointer with 8:37 left that made it 19-14. Notre Dame answered scoring six of the next eight points to close within one.
The Fighting Irish had plenty of chances to take the lead, but couldn’t get over the hump. Charles then scored consecutive layups to extend the lead back to five and UConn went into the half only up three.
The Last Time Notre Dame and Connecticut Met In The BIG EAST Final
Sue Bird hit a fadeway jumper at the buzzer to lift No. 2 Connecticut to a 78-76 victory over No. 1 Notre Dame on March 6, 2001 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., giving the Huskies their 10th BIG EAST tournament championship.
Bird raced down court with the inbounds pass with 5.1 seconds left after Ruth Riley made the second of her two free throws after missing the first. Bird drove down the left side of the lane and fired the winner.
It was sweet redemption for the junior point guard, who lost her dribble out of bounds with 38 seconds and UConn up 76-75. The Fighting Irish worked the ball inside to the 6-foot-5 Riley, who was fouled by Kelly Schumacher.
It was the eighth straight tournament title for the Huskies, who avenged a loss earlier in the season to the Fighting Irish.
Bird finished with a team-high 15 points that included a half-court three-pointer at the buzzer to close out the first half and give UConn a 52-46 lead at the break. Riley, the 2001 BIG EAST Player of the Year, had a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
Riley’s three-point play with 5:24 left started a 7-3 Notre Dame run and the Fighting Irish pulled even at 73-73 with 3:51 left. UConn regained the lead on Bird’s three-pointer with 49.8 seconds remaining. Riley brought the Fighting Irish within one at 76-75 with an inside bucket and tied it on Notre Dame’s next possession, setting up Bird’s heroics.
The officials reviewed the tape to make sure time was on the clock when Bird launched the game-winner. And after a few anxious moments in the sold out 10,000-seat Gampel Pavilion, the basket was counted.
UConn freshman Diana Taurasi, the tournament MVP, scored 14 points before fouling out.
The Huskies lost senior guard Shea Ralph with 5:18 left in the first half to a leg injury. Ralph, the 2000 Final Four MVP, came down hard on her left knee while scrambling for her missed layup. She had 11 points and six assists when she went down. Ralph returned in the second half wearing an air splint and watched from courtside as her teammates played one of the closest games of the season.
There were seven lead changes, and UConn never led by more than seven points and focused on shutting down Notre Dame’s three-point game. Riley didn’t face many double teams and the teams played even in the paint, scoring 42 points apiece.
The Fighting Irish, the best three-point shooting team in the nation at 46 percent, shot 40 percent on 9-of-25 from behind the arc.
UConn’s Schumacher, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash had six rebounds each.
Kelley Siemon finished with 16 points for Notre Dame.
Other Notre Dame-Connecticut Series Tidbits
- This will be the sixth season that Notre Dame and Connecticut have played three times, having also done so in 1995-96, 1997-98, 2000-01, 2004-05 and 2009-10.
- All four of Notre Dame’s wins in the series have come since the start of the 2000-01 season.
- This will mark the 11th time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll at tipoff (second time this season), with the Fighting Irish earning three of their four series wins to date in these top-10 matchups.
- Tuesday’s game also will be the 21st time in the 32-game series that both teams will be ranked at tipoff. At least one team has been ranked in every game of the series.
- Notre Dame’s last win in the series (65-59 at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 30, 2005) snapped Connecticut’s 112-game BIG EAST regular-season home winning streak, and it was the last time the Fighting Irish earned a win over an Associated Press Top 10 team away from South Bend (the Huskies were ranked ninth that day).
- The 2001 BIG EAST Championship final between the schools (won by Connecticut 78-76) is widely considered one of the top women’s college basketball games ever played and was the first women’s game ever chosen to air as an “Instant Classic” by ESPN Classic.
- Connecticut is one of the 12 other former or current NCAA champions Notre Dame has faced in its history. The Fighting Irish are 27-81 (.250) all-time against schools that have hoisted the hardware (either before or after they won the title), with records of .500 or better against USC (7-2), North Carolina (2-1) and Texas (1-1).
- Notre Dame is facing a No. 1-ranked team for the first time since it last played Connecticut in the BIG EAST tournament, falling 59-44 in the 2010 semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford. The Fighting Irish are 2-16 all-time against top-ranked teams, with both victories coming against Connecticut during the 2000-01 season (92-76 on Jan. 15 at Purcell Pavilion; 90-75 on March 30 at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in St. Louis).
- Connecticut is one of three BIG EAST Conference opponents to hold a series edge over Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish, 27-4. The only other league foes with winning records vs. Notre Dame are Rutgers (16-11) and DePaul (19-16; ND leads 7-5 since Blue Demons joined BIG EAST in 2005-06).
- Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Connecticut has lost by 15-plus points seven times, with nearly half (three) of those losses coming to Notre Dame (twice in 2000-01, once in 2003-04).
- With four victories over the Huskies, Notre Dame is one of five teams in the nation to defeat Connecticut at least four times in the past 16 seasons (1995-96 to present). During that stretch, the only programs with more wins over the Huskies than the Fighting Irish are Tennessee (nine) and Rutgers (six).
- Notre Dame sophomore guard Skylar Diggins and Connecticut sophomore guard Kelly Faris finished 1-2 in the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball voting and were teammates on the 2009 Indiana All-Star Team that swept a two-game series from its Kentucky counterpart.
- Diggins also was a teammate of Connecticut junior guards Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes on the White Team at the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs. The trio helped the White squad to a 5-0 record and the gold medal that weekend.
- Notre Dame freshman forward Natalie Achonwa and Connecticut senior forward Maya Moore were two of the three NCAA Division I players (along with Gonzaga’s Janelle Bekkering) to compete at the 2010 FIBA World Championships back in September in the Czech Republic. Achonwa and Bekkering suited up for Team Canada which placed 12th (Achonwa averaged 4.6 ppg. and 3.9 rpg. in eight games at the tournament), while Moore was part of the rotation for the United States squad, which was led to a gold medal by Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma.
- The 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 currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) — Auriemma as president and McGraw as NCAA Division I Legislative Chair. And as of June 2011, both will be members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, with McGraw chosen for induction later this year.
Fighting Irish In The BIG EAST Championship
Notre Dame is in the midst of its 16th BIG EAST Championship this week, having compiled a 19-15 (.559) tournament record to date. Counting Tuesday’s appearance, the Fighting Irish now have advanced to the title game five times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2011). Ironically, four of Notre Dame’s four BIG EAST finals appearances have come when the tournament was held in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 — all on the UConn campus at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs; 2011 at the XL Center 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
- Notre Dame is the third seed for the fourth time in 16 tournament appearances, but the first since 1999. Each of the three previous times the Fighting Irish were a No. 3 seed, they finished as the tournament runner-up, falling to Connecticut in the title game in 1996, 1997 and 1999.
- This year’s No. 3 seed also matches the most common seed for Notre Dame at the BIG EAST Championship — the Fighting Irish also have been No. 2 four times (2000, 2002, 2004 and 2005).
- Notre Dame has been the top seed for the BIG EAST Championship once, earning that honor in 2001.
- The Fighting Irish are 13-6 (.684) all-time at the BIG EAST Championship when playing as the higher seed.
- Conversely, Notre Dame is 6-9 (.400) as the lower tournament seed, with its most recent “underdog” victory coming in Monday’s semifinal against DePaul (a 71-67 win).
- Beginning with its classic 2001 BIG EAST title game against Connecticut (won by the Huskies, 78-76 at Gampel Pavilion on Sue Bird’s shot at the buzzer), 14 of the past 18 Fighting Irish games in the conference tournament have been decided by 11 points or fewer, including seven by single digits.
- All told, more than half (19) of Notre Dame’s 34 career games in the BIG EAST Championship have featured margins of 11 points or fewer, with the Fighting Irish going 9-10 (.474) in those contests.
The Upper Hand
Take out Notre Dame’s 78-57 loss at current No. 1 Connecticut on Feb. 19, and the Fighting Irish have not trailed by more than nine points at any time in 18 games against BIG EAST Conference opponents this season. The largest deficit Notre Dame has faced outside of that second meeting with UConn has been a 20-11 hole with 11:03 left in the first half at DePaul on Feb. 28.
Going one step further — the Fighting Irish have led or been tied at halftime in 15 of their 18 games against other BIG EAST teams this season, with the lone exceptions being a 37-29 deficit at Connecticut (Feb. 19) and both games against DePaul (32-26 in Chicago on Feb. 28; 33-27 in Hartford on Monday).
Game #32 Recap: DePaul
Skylar Diggins was only 10 years old the last time Notre Dame was in the BIG EAST championship game.
Growing up in Indiana she vividly recalled it.
“I remember I was a fan watching it,” the sophomore guard said. “I believe Sue Bird hit the shot and they wrote a book about it. I don’t like that book.”
Now, 10 years later, she’ll get a chance to lead the Fighting Irish to their first title as No. 10 Notre Dame will face Connecticut for the championship Tuesday night.
“We know it’s a great opportunity for our program,” Diggins said.
She had 19 points and made several big plays down the stretch to help the Irish beat No. 9 DePaul 71-67 on Monday night in the semifinals of the BIG EAST tournament.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw appeared surprised to be reminded that the famous 2001 title game was her team’s last appearance in the championship.
“It’s very fitting,” she said. “It’s great to be back in the championship game.”
The Fighting Irish (26-6) had to survive another slugfest with their Midwestern rival to get there and earn their first win over a top 10 team since 2006.
Trailing 65-64 with 1:43 left, Diggins hit a lay-in to give the Irish a one-point lead. After Sam Quigley missed a lay-in, Diggins found Natalie Achonwa for a basket to make it 68-65.
Keisha Hampton got DePaul (27-6) within one with 27.6 left.
Diggins hit one of two free throws and Hampton turned it over on the next possession. Brittany Mallory hit two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to seal the win.
Hampton scored 31 points for DePaul.
“Hampton, wow. We couldn’t stop her,” McGraw said.
Connecticut beat Rutgers 75-51 in the first semifinal. It’s not often that a UConn game feels like a warm-up act, but as has often been the case over the last few years the Huskies pretty much had it decided by the half.
DePaul and Notre Dame have built quite the rivalry over the past few seasons. Five of the previous seven meetings have been decided by five points or less for the Midwestern schools who are a short two-hour drive apart.
“Them being close to us and being such a good team we know when we play them it will be competitive,” Diggins said. “We have players from Chi-town. Being at a neutral site it was still a competitive game and we were luckily enough to come up with a victory.”
DePaul coach Doug Bruno agreed that the proximity of the Midwestern catholic schools adds to the passion.
“It’s a great rivalry and these players understand the intensity of the rivalry,” he said. “It means more than just another college basketball game.”
The two teams met last Monday and the Blue Demons rallied for a 70-69 victory as Felicia Chester hit a shot with just under six seconds left. That gave them the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
“This is kind of game you’re going to play,” Bruno said. “It’s a tough basketball game that came down to a couple of possessions just like it did eight days ago, today we weren’t on top.”
The semifinal game was more of the same. Each time one team would make a run, the other responded. There were 11 lead changes in the second half alone.
Notre Dame erased a six-point halftime deficit and took its own six-point lead, 57-51. DePaul battled back to tie the game at 57 on Hampton’s free throw with 7:25 left. The teams traded leads over the next five minutes.
The Fighting Irish led 61-60 when Becca Bruszewski got fouled on a lay-in. She limped off the court to the locker room and Natalie Novosel made one of the two free throws with 3:39 left to make it a two-point game.
Hampton responded with a three-point play to give the Blue Demons a 63-62 advantage. After Diggins hit two free throws, Hampton had another layup to make it 65-64 with 1:43 left.
Noting The DePaul Game
- Notre Dame advances to its fifth BIG EAST Championship final, and first since 2001 (a 78-76 loss to Connecticut at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.).
- Notre Dame is 5-4 (.556) all-time in BIG EAST semifinals.
- In all four occasions when the Fighting Irish have been seeded third in the BIG EAST Championship, they have advanced to the tournament championship game, having also done in 1996, 1997 and 1999.
- This will mark the fourth of Notre Dame’s five BIG EAST Championship finals appearances to be played in the state of Connecticut (1996, 1997 and 2001 all were played at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs).
- The Fighting Irish improve to 19-15 (.559) all-time in the BIG EAST Championship, including a 6-9 (.400) record as the lower seeded team.
- Monday’s game represented the 14th time in Notre Dame’s last 18 BIG EAST tournament games that the margin was 11 points or fewer, and the seventh in that span to be decided by single digits.
- The Fighting Irish also have seen more than half (19) of their 34 career games at the BIG EAST Championship decided by 11 points or fewer, with Notre Dame going 9-10 (.474) in those games, including a 2-0 record this season.
- Notre Dame moves to 7-11 (.389) all-time at Hartford’s XL Center, including a 7-5 (.583) record against teams other than Connecticut (which calls the arena home during the regular season).
- The Fighting Irish earn their first win over an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll (DePaul rose to No. 9 earlier in the day) since Dec. 6, 2006, when Notre Dame downed No. 10 Purdue, 67-58 at Purcell Pavilion.
- It also was the first time Notre Dame defeated an AP Top 10 team away from home since Jan. 30, 2005, when the Fighting Irish downed No. 9 Connecticut, 65-59 in Storrs (the last time Notre Dame defeated ranked ninth or higher, as well as the last time the Fighting Irish defeated the Huskies).
- Notre Dame rises to 5-6 this season against ranked opponents.
- Notre Dame posts its fifth win in six games against DePaul, trimming the series deficit against the Blue Demons to 16-19 all-time, with Monday marking the first time in three postseason meetings (two in the BIG EAST Championship) that the Fighting Irish came out on top.
- Notre Dame also has held DePaul to fewer than 70 points in five of the past six series games.
- The Fighting Irish are 7-5 (.583) against the Blue Demons since DePaul joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06.
- Eight of Notre Dame’s 12 series games with DePaul under the BIG EAST banner have been decided by single digits, including six of the past eight (and both this season).
- In the long history of the series, which dates back 35 games to the 1978-79 season, the aggregate point total remains remarkable close — DePaul has scored 2,389 points (68.3 ppg.), while Notre Dame has scored 2,366 points (67.6 ppg.).
- Monday’s game represented the second time in four tries this season that the Fighting Irish rallied for a victory after trailing at halftime (Notre Dame trailed Gonzaga, 35-33 before coming back to win 70-61 on Dec. 29 at the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle).
- For the second consecutive game (and just the fourth time all season), Notre Dame had just two double-figure scorers — prior to this year’s BIG EAST Championship, the Fighting Irish were 0-2 this season when having fewer than three double-figure scorers in a game (76-65 loss at No. 2/3 Baylor on Dec. 1; 78-57 loss at No. 2 Connecticut on Feb. 19).
- Notre Dame’s senior class collected its 102nd career victory, improving to 102-30 (.773) since coming to the South Bend campus in 2007-08. The 102 wins tie for the fourth-most ever recorded by a Fighting Irish senior class, matching the totals by the Classes of 1998-99 (Diana Braendly and Sheila McMillen) and 2002-03 (Alicia Ratay and Karen Swanson). The only Notre Dame senior groups with more victories came in 1999-2000 (106 by Danielle Green and Julie Henderson), 2001-02 (107 by Ericka Haney) and 2000-01 (109 by Imani Dunbar, current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, Meaghan Leahy, Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon).
— ND —