For UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma it was a better than 50/50 chance that Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis would knock down a three in the final seconds of the UConn-Notre Dame game and keep the #1 ranked Huskies undefeated. The odds were probably even better given the fact that Mosqueda-Lewis was wide open and had plenty of time to measure the shot.
Unfortunately for Auriemma and his Huskies (12-1, 0-1) the ball hit the front rim and after a mad scramble it was the Irish of Notre Dame (12-1, 1-0) coming up with the loose ball and dribbling out the clock to preserve a one point lead and beat the Huskies 73-72 on national TV before a packed house at Gampel Pavilion Saturday afternoon.
Notre Dame Muffet McGraw credited her senior point guard Skylar Diggins for carrying the team all season and especially Saturday. “I think when you have a player like Skylar on your team, you don’t really need to do a whole lot. She does it all. She lays the groundwork. She sets the tone. Right from the summer on, when the freshmen arrived she let them know this is how (Notre Dame does things). She’s been great. She’s been such a great leader with this team and they hang on every word she says.”
Plenty of chances
The Huskies had three opportunities to score in the in the final 48 seconds taking a timeout with 21.1 on the clock giving Auriemma an opportunity to draw up the final possession with the intent of taking the last shot and the lead and leaving Notre Dame with little or no time to answer. It worked to perfection as somehow the Irish lost Mosqueda-Lewis who was standing all alone in the right corner and looking to hit the game winner.
“When you play against a really good team”’ said Auriemma, “One play or two plays. One series or going up and down the floor sometime decides the game. That can be at the fifteen minute mark or the ten minute mark or down the stretch.”
It could not have been a more entertaining game from start to finish. In the first half UConn took the early lead before the Irish stormed back taking their first lead, 6-5, on a Natalie Achonwa layup. The teams exchanged blows before a Kelly Faris three gave the Huskies a one point lead at the 12:50 mark. Two ties and a lead change later Notre Dame hit UConn with a 9-0 run taking a 29-20 advantage with just under seven to play. Again it was a punchers match with UConn landing the blows and cutting into the Irish lead with Faris poised to give the Huskies a one point lead just before the half, but her three rattled out before a Kayla McBride baseline jumper put the Irish back up by four with under a minute remaining. Bria Hartley answered with a deuce from near the top of the key with 22 ticks left and the teams went to the locker room with Notre Dame hanging onto a slim 38-36 margin.
UConn's persistence paid off early in the second as a Mosqueda-Lewis three finally evened things up at 42. She followed it up with a layup giving UConn the lead just over two minutes in. Again the teams battled it out tying the score at 52 and again at 63 with just over seven minutes to go. Two more ties and two more lead changes ensued before a pair of Diggins free throws put the Irish up for good with 49.4 on the clock accounting for the final margin of victory.
“It’s frustrating”, said Mosqueda-Lewis, “Tired of repeating the same mistakes we always do (against Notre Dame). You really get tested in a game like this. You come back with a different mentality. Come back stronger.”
UConn is 81-8 and since the start of the 2010 season with five of those losses coming to Notre Dame…In that stretch UConn has beaten the Irish twice to capture the BIG EAST tournament title only to lose in back to back national semi-finals of the NCAA tournament…Notre Dame has defeated UConn in five of the last six meetings…The game was the conference opener for both team…Notre Dame joins the ACC next season…Notre Dame’s only loss was to #2 ranked Baylor, 73-61…UConn faces Baylor in Hartford on Feb. 18…Next up for the Huskies is a trip to Washington Wednesday night to play Georgetown (10-4, 1-0).