March 4, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma thought the Huskies had Notre Dame beat. He was wrong.
The third-ranked Huskies squandered a six-point lead in the first overtime and a five-point lead in the second extra period before falling 96-87 in three OTs as the second-ranked Fighting Irish won the Big East regular-season title outright for the second straight year.
Auriemma blamed the loss on Connecticut's inability to handle the pressure Notre Dame's defense put on the ball, forcing 35 turnovers. The previous high for the Huskies was 20 turnovers against Penn State.
"We just need to take care of the ball better," he said. "Unless we get better at that, then this is going to be it for us. This is going to be the story of our season. We're going to come up a little bit short."
UConn guard Kelly Faris said it's impossible to win turning the ball over that often.
"The seniors, we didn't handle the pressure well, and we can't expect any of the younger girls to do that if we can't even do it," she said. "Thirty-five turnovers, that's incredibly unacceptable."
Skylar Diggins finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds to spark the Irish to (28-1, 16-0) to their sixth win in their last seven meetings against Connecticut (27-3, 14-2), the first team to do that in two decades. The Irish also went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was pleased with her team's resilience.
"We were done in regulation and the first and second overtimes. We just clawing away and got them to miss some free throws," she said. "What a battle."
The Irish took their first lead in overtime when Kaila Turner hit a free throw 18 seconds into the third overtime. After Faris answered with a bank shot for the Huskies to regain the lead, the Irish took over. Ariel Braker starter it with a free throw, then Jewell Loyd muscled in a basket inside and nearly a minute later added a pair of free throws to give the Irish an 87-83 lead.
Diggins then stole the ball from Breanna Stewart and scored on a fastbreak layup, then Braker, Diggins and Natalie Achonwa each made two free throws to put the game away.
The Irish managed to win despite going just 1 of 12 from 3-point range and being outshot 46 percent to 39 percent, but the Irish forced 35 turnovers. Achonwa added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Irish.
The Huskies missed three free throws in the first overtime, including one by Morgan Tuck that would have given the Huskies a four-point lead with 13 seconds left.
McBride then hit Notre Dame's only 3-pointer with 8 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force the second overtime.
"I saw they were double-teaming Sky and I had taken the ball out and it was basically a one-on-one situation," McBride said. "I saw and opening and took it."
Diggins, playing in her final game before her hometown crowd, said the Irish never gave up.
"We're all competitors from the head coach all the way down to the end of the bench. And we always feel like we can find a way to win," she said. "That's the mindset of our team."
The Huskies got up by five in the second overtime, but then had three turnovers and a missed free throw.
"How many chances can you have?" Auriemma asked. "You're on the road against a really good team. You might get one chance. You might get two chances when it really matters. But you're not going to get unlimited chances."
Especially with Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley sitting on the bench after fouling out in the closing seconds of regulation. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn with 26 points, Faris added 21, Dolson had 12 points and Hartley finished with 10.
The Irish head to Hartford next week seeking to win their first league tournament title. The Irish have won 23 straight, matching a school record set by the national championship team in 2000-01.