April 1, 2012

Notre Dame UConnNotre Dame 83, UConn 75
NCAA Tournament Final Four
Pepsi Center – Denver, Colorado

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1st 2nd OT Final
Notre Dame
33 34 16 83
Connecticut 36 31 8 75
Statistical Leaders
Points: Natalie Novosel – 20
Rebounds: Devereaux Peters – 12
Assists: Brittany Mallory – 5
Blocks: Devereaux Peters – 4
Team Stats
– Field Goal Pct. 40.3% 45.6%
– Three-Point Pct. 35.7% 23.1%
– Free Throw Pct. 74.1% 76.9%
– Rebounds 43 42
– Turnovers 16 21
– Steals 14 10
– Blocks 7 8
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DENVER (AP) – Notre Dame is back in the national championship thanks to Skylar Diggins’ steady leadership and Brittany Mallory’s clutch shooting.

Diggins scored 19 points, Mallory hit two big 3-pointers in overtime and the Irish beat Connecticut 83-75 on Sunday night.

The two hooked up for a game-turning play in overtime when Diggins stood her ground on a fast break, blocked the shot to prevent the Huskies from retaking the lead, then fed Mallory at the other end for her second important 3.

“That was game-saving. That was huge,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That would have turned it around if they made that layup. She sprinted the floor, made that huge play. It gave us such a big momentum lift, and Britt hitting that 3 made it a huge play.”

Notre Dame (35-3) also beat the Huskies (33-5) in the semifinals last year, ending Maya Moore’s brilliant career and the Huskies’ bid for a third straight national championship. But Notre Dame stumbled 48 hours later, losing to Texas A&M in the title game in Indianapolis.

Unfinished business has been their mantra all season, and now they get a chance to take care of business Tuesday night against the Baylor-Stanford winner.

The game was tied at 67 after regulation following an 8-2 run by UConn that was fueled by a series of hustle plays from Kelly Faris, who had a steal and a basket and four free throws in the final 90 seconds.

The Huskies, who were led by Stefanie Dolson’s 20 points despite foul trouble, stretched their run to 11-3 when Bria Hartley opened the extra period with a 3-pointer.

The Huskies had the ball again after a missed free throw but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fired up an off-target 3-pointer early in the shot clock and UConn never recovered.

Diggins’ best play came on defense. With Notre Dame clinging to a 73-72 lead, the Huskies had a 2-on-1 fast break but Diggins held her ground and blocked Hartley’s layup attempt, and the Irish scored the next eight points to ice it.

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The last two minutes, minute and a-half of regulation were pretty amazing. As most games do, it turned on one great play by a great player.

“In overtime we didn’t have enough. We took a chance on making it difficult, but Brittany Mallory made two huge shots. That’s who we wanted to take the shots, and God bless her, she made them.”

Mallory was 0 for 4 from behind the arc in regulation.

“It was a big sigh of relief when that first one went in,” she said.

Mallory’s back-to-back 3s and a free throw pushed Notre Dame to a 77-72 lead.

Notre Dame guard Natalie Novosel (21) shoots as Connecticut guard Tiffany Hayes (3) defends.

“My teammates just kept talking to me, `You’re going to hit a shot. You’re going to hit a shot,”‘ said Mallory, who had seven of her 11 points in OT. “I was getting a little down on myself and I just happened to keep finding the 3-point line and my teammates found me and they couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Out of sync, the Huskies kept firing up misses and the Irish grabbed the boards, then hit all six of their free throws over the final 32 seconds.

“I am euphoric right now for Brittany Mallory,” McGraw said. “What a way for senior to come through in one of the last games of her career.”

Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 20 points, including her follow-up hook shot with 4.6 seconds left in regulation that tied it after Diggins’ shot was off.

“It was a whirlwind,” Novosel said. “Two turnovers from each team. Sky was going to take them off the dribble and we were going to work off of her. I was fortunate the ball came right to me and I was able to put it in.”

“My teammates just kept talking to me, `You’re going to hit a shot. You’re going to hit a shot.'”
Brittany Mallory, who had seven of her 11 points in OT.

Even though the Huskies were unable to get off a shot in the final few seconds of regulation, they were the ones who were excited heading into overtime.

“I thought we had a lot of momentum,” Hartley said. “There was a lot of excitement and we felt good going into the overtime. It didn’t work out.”

Thanks mostly to Mallory, who was just 1 for 11 from long range during the NCAA tournament before making the pair of big 3s in overtime.

“That’s her leadership and next-play attitude,” Kayla McBride said. “She had no hesitation and we all had confidence in her.”

Devereaux Peters added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Irish, who also knocked out UConn in the semifinals in 2001, when they won their only national title.

This was the eighth game between the bitter BIG EAST rivals in the last 14 months. The Huskies are 20-2 in the NCAA tournament since 2009 and both of those losses have been to Notre Dame.

Hartley had 18 points for the Huskies, who were wearing blue at the Final Four for the first time since 2004, their more familiar white uniforms packed away because the Irish were the higher seed.

“We put ourselves in a position to win at the end,” Faris said. “We didn’t have enough to finish it off.”

And the Irish had Diggins and Mallory to finish off the Huskies.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame is headed back to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive year, and the third time in program history (2001, 2011, 2012) … the Fighting Irish are the sixth team to make back-to-back NCAA title game appearances, joining Louisiana Tech (1982-83; 1987-88), Southern California (1983-84), Auburn (1988-90), Tennessee (1995-98; 2003-04, 2007-08) and Connecticut (2002-04, 2009-10) in that elite company … Notre Dame is the eighth school to play in at least three national championship games, along with Tennessee (13), Connecticut (7), Louisiana Tech (6), Stanford (4), Southern California (3) and Auburn (3) … the Fighting Irish are 5-2 (.714) all-time in NCAA Women’s Final Four games, including a 3-1 record in the national semifinals — all three of those semifinal victories have come against Connecticut … in those seven Final Four contests, Notre Dame has trailed at the half in six of them (all but the 2011 national title game when it led Texas A&M, 35-33), going 5-1 in these games … the Fighting Irish are the first team to defeat Connecticut three times in one season since 1992-93, when Miami (Fla.) pulled off that feat … Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is the fifth coach ever (fourth active skipper) to guide her team to eight wins over a Geno Auriemma-coached Connecticut squad, joining Villanova’s Harry Perretta (11), former Providence coach Bob Foley (10), Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (9) and current Rutgers/former Iowa & Cheyney coach C. Vivian Stringer (8) … the Fighting Irish have all eight of their series wins against Connecticut since the start of the 2000-01 season, the most by any Huskies’ opponent during that 12-year span (Rutgers is next closest with five) … Notre Dame is 3-1 when going to overtime in the NCAA Championship (18-17 overall, and 2-0 this year with both wins over Connecticut), with this marking the first OT game in the NCAA Women’s Final Four national semifinals since 1997 when Old Dominion edged Stanford, 83-82 (coincidentally, the Fighting Irish played in the other semifinal that year in Cincinnati, falling to Tennessee, 80-66) … Notre Dame is 5-2 all-time when playing in the state of Colorado, including a 3-0 record at the Pepsi Center (the Fighting Irish won a pair of games at the facility in 2001 to claim the NCAA Midwest Regional title en route to the program’s first national championship) … Notre Dame is 11-0 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship, and have scored at least 70 points in 16 of their last 18 tournament games … the Fighting Irish register their school-record 35th win of the season, topping the 34-2 mark set by the 2000-01 club … Notre Dame moves to 15-2 this season against Top 25 opponents, including an 11-2 record away from home … the Fighting Irish are 7-2 against top-10 teams, including four victories over top-five opponents … other seasonal updates — 16th 80-point game, 24th time forcing at least 20 opponent turnovers, 29th game with double-digit steals … Notre Dame had four double-digit scorers for the 18th time this year, and is 52-4 (.929) in the past four years when it has at least four players reach double figures … the Fighting Irish are 168-6 (.966) when scoring 80 points in a game during the past 17 seasons (1995-96 to present), including a 45-2 (.957) mark in the past three years … fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters chalked up her career-high 12th double-double of the season and 23rd of her career (good for ninth in school history) — it’s also Peters’ fifth double-double in her last 10 NCAA Championship games (second in three career Final Four outings) … junior guard Skylar Diggins becomes the first player in school history to register 100 steals in a season, hitting the century mark exactly with three thefts on Sunday … for the fifth time in the past two seasons (and second this year), senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel has factored into a game-tying or winning shot in the final 30 seconds of regulation or overtime (she hit a buzzer-beating bank shot for a 56-54 win over No. 7/6 Duke on Nov. 26 in Freeport, Bahamas).