Finding the fight in the Irish
UConn, Notre Dame need OT for the second time this season
DENVER -- It was a physical game filled with fouls, charges, floor burns, hustle plays, and in the end lived up to expecations.
"You expect that from UConn," said Devereaux Peters, whose double-double of 17 points and 12 boards helped Notre Dame to an 83-75 overtime win. "They are a very physical team. They are a really good team. We just have to fight back. It's something we have to deal with all year. You know you're going to get your best game from UConn at this point in the season."
It was only appropriate that the back-and-forth fight for a spot in the national championship game would end in overtime, the second time an extra period was needed this season between the two teams.
After letting a four-point lead slip away in the last 1:19 of regulation, the Fighting Irish plowed through an emotional final minute of turnovers, steals and a deafening crowd, the majority of which was obviously pulling for the blue and gold.
With the Huskies up two with 11 seconds to go in regulation, Natalie Novosel grabbed a rare Skylar Diggins miss in the lane and banked it in to tie it up and send the game into overtime.
Three was the lucky number in the overtime period, with Diggins draining the first and Brittany Mallory following up with two of her own -- sealing the fate of the Fighting Irish to head to another title matchup.
"It was almost déjà vu with 1:20 left in overtime," said senior guard Natalie Novosel, who finished with 20 points. "It was the same thing at the end of regulation and we were able to finish it and make a run that time. You don't get many second chances, but we did and we were able to capitalize on that."
The game was paced for Notre Dame by the upperclassmen, which was just the upper hand that the Fighting Irish needed. Compared to the Huskies' fresh faces on the Women's Final Four floor in Denver, Notre Dame's key contributions came from Mallory, Diggins, Novosel and Peters, all juniors and seniors.
"Experience played in a lot especially with Brittany late in the stretch and being confident in her shot," Peters said. "Sky making the right passes and running the right things. Just being here before and having to run through it. Positions we've been in before have really helped us a lot gaining experiences and understanding what to do when we get into situations like this."
Meeting their match for the fourth time this season, this time the Big East battle went to the Irish and the team wouldn't have it any other way.
"I know basketball fans all around the country were foaming at the mouth seeing this and when it went into overtime," Diggins said. "You could see - even the Stanford-Baylor crowd got into it. But this is great. Yes, it's that much sweeter because it's UConn."
Surely, a win on Tuesday will be that much sweeter.
Huskies in good hands
It is uncommon to rely on a freshman and two sophomores to carry a team to the Women's Final Four, but the trio of Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was able to do that. UConn's group of up-and-coming stars each scored double-figures in the semifinal matchup. Unfortunately though for the Huskies, it just wasn't enough.
"It's awfully difficult," said head coach Geno Auriemma, whose squad fell short of the title game for the second consecutive year. "And a lot of the teams that have been here before find out that you're not going to come here and your freshmen and sophomores are going to necessarily win national championships for you. It's very difficult."
On the upside, Auriemma returns a dangerous group of youngsters next season. That experience will be invaluable in helping the Huskies make it to the big dance for a sixth consecutive time, and maybe, just maybe with a different outcome.
• Notre Dame has played in just two overtimes games this season, both against Connecticut.
• The last time a national semifinal game went into overtime was in 1997.
• Notre Dame is 11-0 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
• The Fighting Irish is the only team to score 70 points on Connecticut, doing so three times this season.
• Connecticut is 0-3 on the season when allowing more than 70 points.
• The Huskies are 33-2 on the season when leading at halftime.
• Connecticut was outscored in the second half by Notre Dame, 34-31, just the sixth time in 76 halves this season that UConn has been outscored in a half.
• Sophomore guard Bria Hartley's 18 points pushed her above the 1,000-point threshold for her career (1,005).