March 6, 2001
By DONNA TOMMELLEO
AP Sports Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) – 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 Tuesday night and give 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 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 (28-2), who avenged a Jan. 15 loss to the Irish (28-2). Notre Dame has been to the title game four times since joining the conference six years ago, and has lost each time to UConn.
Bird finished with a team-high 15 points that included a half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer to close out the first half and give UConn a 52-46 lead at the break.
Riley, the Big East player of the year, had a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
Riley’s 3-point play with 5:24 left started a 7-3 Notre Dame run and the Irish pulled even at 73-73 with 3:51 left. UConn regained the lead on Bird’s 3-pointer with 49.8 seconds remaining. Riley brought the Irish within one at 75-76 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, last year’s 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 3-point game. Riley didn’t face many double teams and the teams played even in the paint, scoring 42 points apiece.
The Irish, the best 3-point shooting team in the nation at 46 percent, shot 40 percent on 9-of-25 from behind the arc.
UConn’s Kelly Schumacher, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash had six rebounds each.
Kelley Siemon finished with 16 points for Notre Dame.