|Connecticut's Kelly Schumacher (11) shoots over Notre Dame's Amanda Barksdale (31) in the first half.|
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Down 16 points in the first half, its point guard in foul trouble, All-American center Ruth Riley neutralized, Notre Dame stormed back to beat Big East rival Connecticut 90-75 Friday night to earn a berth in the women's national championship game.
The Irish got 21 points from St. Louis native Niele Ivey and denied the defending champions a return to the title game. Instead, it will be an all-Indiana final with Notre Dame meeting Purdue on Sunday night.
Purdue, which lost to Notre Dame 72-61 on Dec. 9, advanced with an 81-64 victory over Southwest Missouri State.
Alicia Ratay added 20 points for Notre Dame and Riley, limited to two shots and two points in the first half, finished with 18. Erika Haney added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Notre Dame (33-2) never led until Ratay hit a 3-pointer with UConn's Diana Taurasi in her face, making it 61-59 with 12:37 left. Connecticut (32-3) led twice after that, the last time at 65-63 on Tamika Williams' reverse layup with 10:30 remaining.
Then the Huskies went cold and Notre Dame kicked it in.
Ratay hit a jumper, Ivey sank two free throws and Ratay - the nation's most accurate 3-point shooter at 54 percent - hit another from behind the arc. That made it 70-65.
Ivey's steal set up two free throws by Jeneka Joyce, Riley scored on a putback and then sank a free throw. When Haney made two free throws, Notre Dame had scored 14 straight points, the lead was 77-65 and the Irish were on their way to the title game.
Connecticut went more than five minutes without scoring, finally ending its drought when Taurasi hit a free throw with 5:24 left. Sue Bird made a 3-pointer 35 seconds later.
Notre Dame got a scare when Ivey, the point guard, grabbed her left ankle in pain while scrambling for a loose ball. But she stayed in the game and directed the Irish down the stretch. After getting three fouls in the first half, Ivey did not pick up another.
It was the rubber match between the two after each won on the other's court. Connecticut had won the most recent game, 78-76 in the Big East championship.
Sue Bird led Connecticut with 18 points and Kelly Schumacher scored 12. The Huskies shot only 33.8 percent and were 6-for-30 from 3-point range.
Taurasi, a freshman, had become Connecticut's go-to player after injuries sidelined All-Americans Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph. She scored only four points on 1-for-15 shooting and fouled out with 1:24 left.
Connecticut led by 12 at halftime and went up 52-37 on Bird's 3-pointer at the start of the second half. But the Huskies made only four baskets in the next 9:20 and Notre Dame put together a 24-7 run that included seven points by Haney to finally take the lead.
Fouls frustrated both teams in the first half, though Connecticut got through it much better than the Irish.
Taurasi sat out the final 5:58 of the half after getting her third foul. Backup guard Kennitra Johnson was charged with three fouls while playing only eight minutes.
Notre Dame had to finish the half with both Riley and Ivey on the bench - not a good combination for a team with little depth. Riley sat the last 6:35 and Ivey the final 2:32.
The Irish were still in it when Ivey went out, trailing 39-31. Connecticut then scored eight quick points, including two baskets by little-used freshman Maria Conlon.
Conlon hit a 3-pointer to make it 42-31 and dropped in a running scoop shot on the break less than a minute later. She was fouled and sank the free throw to complete the three-point play for a 47-31 lead.
Jeneka Joyce and Ratay each hit a 3-pointer to draw the Irish to 49-37 at halftime and keep them within striking distance.