UConn captured its fifth straight Big East tournament championship with a 63-54 victory over Notre Dame Tuesday night at the XL Center. For the 19th straight year, the Huskies have won either the Big Eat regular season or tournament titles. The win also marked the 800th career coaching win for Auriemma, making him the fastest to ever achieve that accomplishment in women's college basketball.
In route to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis paced the Huskies with 19 points to go along with eight rebounds. Bria Hartley added 18 points and Kelly Faris (8 points) made some clutch three pointers down the stretch that sealed the victory for the Huskies (29-4).
Connecticut's defense held the Irish to a season low 54 points in a game that saw No. 2 Notre Dame (30-3) go 19-59 from the field on 32.3 percent shooting.
A week earlier, after losing the regular season title to Notre Dame, Auriemma question the "fight" of this UConn team. On Tuesday, the Huskies showed they could overcome adversity. And they ended a three-game losing streak to the Irish – a real rarity for the UConn program
"I think we just really wanted it, you know," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We've been working towards this since the beginning of the season. We felt like with the losses that we had, it all had to do with the mindset that we had. So tonight we came out tough, we came out aggressive, and I think we just wanted it enough and we played are hearts out tonight."
Notre Dame was led by Skylar Diggins (16 points) and Kayla McBride (13 points).
"I thought Connecticut played really well," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "They outplayed us today. Particularly Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley really – they really played extremely well. I thought it was a hard fought battle and a really good game."
It was the sixth meeting between Connecticut and Notre Dame in the Big East Championship final, with UConn winning all of those games. But more importantly, the win ended UConn's slide against the Irish dating back to last season in the Final Four.
"It's hard to lose any game, and to lose to one team three straight times doesn't sit well," Tiffany Hayes (14 point) said. "I don't think it would sit well with anyone. But with this team, we just knew we were better than we had played in those last couple games. So we just wanted to come out tonight, and like we already said, we wanted to fight until the end."
The matchup between Connecticut and Notre Dame is an annual occurrence for the two programs, but it wasn't until this season that most are now referring to the contest as a rivalry.
"I think it's always been that," Diggins said. "We meet them so many times and they're such a good team. They always have a good program. As many times as we meet them, I would call it that."
Both Connecticut and Notre Dame will now head into the NCAA tournament, most likely with both earning No. 1 seeds.
"Today is Tuesday, Auriemma said." I wish the NCAA tournament started Saturday. This is the time when you really want to just keep going there, so for us to have to wait two weeks almost, it's difficult."
Auriemma's milestone may have taken a backseat to the Big East title. But not by the players.
"It was very important, Hayes said. To be honest, I think he's one of the best coaches and he definitely deserved it. I think we owe him that much. We've been through a lot this year as a team, and it was just nice to get the win at home in front of a big crowd. Yeah, we got the championship."
Auriemma said it felt like the team needed 800 wins to get through what he called a "grueling year." And he said the Huskies got their swagger back Tuesday night.
"Tonight and last night they weren't looking for Maya Moore or Tina [Charles]. This one feels really good for them because it's theirs," he said. "They really own this one. It feels way better than the other ones they won."
UConnPlaybook.com managing editor Ken Davis contributed to this story. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.