STORRS, Conn. – Perhaps the majority of the women's basketball world is delighted by the development, but the basic feeling around Connecticut is that Notre Dame has become annoying, irritating, and an absolute pain in the you-know-what for the Huskies.
It was bad enough the Irish ended UConn's runs to the Final Four the past two seasons. It was record breaking when Notre Dame came to the XL Center on Feb. 27, 2012 and snapped UConn's 49-game winning streak in that building with a 72-59 win over the Huskies.
Then Saturday, before a sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion, the Irish ruined UConn's No. 1 party in the rankings – just one week after the Huskies went on the road and humiliated then-No. 1 Stanford 61-35. Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (12-1, 1-0 Big East) didn't humiliate UConn (12-1, 0-1) but the 73-72 setback on national television left a sting that won't go away soon for the Huskies.
"I'm not annoyed; I'm mad," said center Stefanie Dolson, who scored 17 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. "I'm angry that we lost. I'm mad now. I'll be mad in the morning. I'll be mad in two weeks. I'm really mad that we lost and I know everyone on the team is. It's something we have to work on."
Kayla McBride (21 points) and Skylar Diggins (19 points) led five Notre Dame players in double figures as the Irish defeated UConn for the fifth time in the last six meetings. And that is the real rub. After UConn recorded 12 straight wins over Notre Dame, this series suddenly is tipping toward South Bend.
Since UConn won its first national championship in 1995, no team has held this kind of dominance over the Huskies. Considering the stature of the opponent, perhaps this isn't shocking but, nevertheless, UConn's streak of 24 consecutive victories in Big East Conference home openers also ended. UConn's last loss in that setting came on Jan. 2, 1988 – a 72-69 overtime loss to Boston College.
Think how long ago that was. It was well before any national championship trophies were won by either the men's or the women's programs at UConn. It was just months before the UConn men won the 1988 NIT championship.
"It's pretty embarrassing honestly," senior guard Kelly Faris said, without flinching. "Not taking anything away from them. They're a great team. McBride hit just about every shot (10 of 21) she took tonight. They knocked in some pretty key shots at key moments.
"It's five for the last six games. It gets to you after a while. It's frustrating. I'm hoping for everybody else that this is a real wakeup call. We've got to fix a lot of things."
Faris finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one turnover and five steals in 40 minutes and still tried to shoulder the blame for the loss, saying she didn't defend Notre Dame's leading scorer well enough.
"That's how Kelly is," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She takes everything personally. She feels responsible. There's only so much one person can do."
After a first half that saw Notre Dame control the boards and take advantage of UConn turnovers on the way to a 38-36 lead, it appeared the one person who could change everything was sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 12 of her 17 points in the second half. She scored nine of UConn's first 15 points to start the second half and gave the Huskies a 52-50 lead on two free throws with 14:34 left. And she did despite an ankle injury and foul trouble that saw her pick up her fourth foul with 10 minutes left.
But Mosqueda-Lewis wouldn't use any of that as an excuse. That's why everyone in the building felt confident when she launched a wide-open three-point attempt with six seconds remaining in the game. But the 53 percent three-point shooter missed from the right corner. The rebound came off to Notre Dame's Ariel Braker and she passed the ball ahead to let Diggins dribble out the clock.
"A lot of people are afraid of the name on the front of the jersey," Diggins said. "We're not any more. I thought we did a good job in being tough."
Diggins has become Enemy No. 1 and the UConn student section heckled her throughout the game. She didn't have a great shooting performance, hitting only 4 of 15 shots. But she was 9 of 12 from the free throw line and gave Notre Dame the 73-72 lead with 49.4 seconds left with two free throws looking into that student section.
|Stefanie Dolson had 17 points|
UConn had three chances to win after that. Breanna Stewart (10 points on 5 of 17 shooting) had a jumper blocked by Braker but UConn kept the ball on the possession arrow and the Huskies called time with 28 seconds left. Stewart missed another shot and Faris rebounded before UConn called a 30 second timeout with 21.1 seconds left. This time, UConn ran its offense and reversed the ball to Mosqueda-Lewis, who remarkably had been left open.
"Kelly Faris drew in a lot of defenders when she drove to the basket and kicked it out for me," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I was just unlucky it didn't go in. I missed. [My teammates] told me one play doesn't make the whole game."
Her teammates also said the game shouldn't have come down to that. Auriemma said he wouldn't have wanted any other shot. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was just relieved the ball didn't go in. She said the Irish were inspired by the Notre Dame football team and put up a goal-line stand on those final three shots by UConn.
"There's a little pressure because that's a game winner," McGraw said of the final shot."There's a little more on the shot. Maybe if we had guarded her, she wouldn't have had the time to think about it."
Notre Dame's biggest lead came with 6:56 left in the first half when Diggins hit a pair of free throws to make it 29-20. It was still a 38-34 lead for the Irish until Bria Hartley knocked down a jumper with 22 seconds left to cup the gap to two at halftime. Hartley was originally credited with a three but the play was reviewed by officials and changed to a two, resulting in the 38-36 score at halftime.
Michaela Mabrey (11 points) gave Notre Dame a 68-67 lead on a three-pointer that the UConn bench and other observes thought should have been reviewed. But the officials decided against using replay to see if she had stepped on or over the three-point arc. In a game that feature 10 ties and nine lead changes, one or two points either way obviously could be pivotal.
"I don't know why," Auriemma said when asked why Mabrey's shot wasn't reviewed. "They reviewed Bria's. But maybe a bigger question is what was [Mabrey] doing so wide open? p>"I said this game wasn't going to be 61-35. If that last shot by Kaleena goes in and Notre Dame loses, they don't go home feeling like they're not any good. We don't go back to the locker room thinking we've got everything covered. A game like this probably does some guys on our team more good than a win would. You hate to say that, but that's what games this time of year are for."