Shocking day at women's Final Four
The fourth time was the charm for the Fighting Irish.
After Notre Dame lost its first three matchups against Connecticut this season, including the Big East championship game, the Irish kept their poise against the Huskies in a 72-63 victory Sunday.
It was a night of upsets. The two top seeds left in the NCAA women's tournament were toppled as Texas A&M took down Stanford in the final seconds with a 63-62 win in the night's first semifinal matchup. But it was Notre Dame's dismantling of its conference rival that stunned those in attendance at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"This is my week for exorcising demons," Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We were resilient. We made big shot after big shot."
In a stellar second half in which Notre Dame (31-7) outscored UConn by 15, the Irish forced Connecticut star Maya Moore to try and win the game herself, as the forward took a whopping 30 shots from the floor while pouring in 36 points. The rest of the Huskies (36-2) contributed just 27 points on 29 field-goal attempts.
Notre Dame countered with a fantastic game from sophomore guard Skylar Diggins, who finished with 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with six assists.
"She carried that team tonight," Huskies guard Kelly Faris said of Diggins' performance. "She's extremely smart with her body and how to use it."
Afterward, UConn coach Geno Auriemma pointed out that he wouldn't think about Sunday night's loss, comparing it to a similar Final Four defeat in 2008, when Moore and senior guard Lorin Dixon were freshmen.
"I want to remind them in the locker room that the same thing happened to them," he said. "But what happened in between, only the really fortunate can ever experience."
Still, that feeling didn't help Moore moments after the defeat. "Like Coach said, I'll choose to remember the great things," she said with reddened eyes.
"It's tough that this is the current taste in my mouth."
Notre Dame won't have much time to savor this victory, as it will face fellow No. 2 seed Texas A&M in the national championship game Tuesday night.
The Aggies' Sydney Colson drove the length of the floor and found a cutting Tyra White for a layup with 3.3 seconds left to send Stanford home from its fourth straight Final Four without a championship. The teams traded leads five times in the final minute before White's layup capped A&M's remarkable rally from a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes.
"It's time to make history," Colson said.
The Aggies (32-5) already have done that by punching a ticket to their first title game, led by All-American Danielle Adams. They'll try to use their stifling defense to force Notre Dame into the same errors that Stanford made.
"In some ways, we're mirror images of each other because we've got great guard play and pretty good defense," McGraw said about Texas A&M. "And they've got an outstanding player in Danielle Adams. It's something that I haven't actually spent a lot of time thinking about, and when I was watching them through the tournament, I thought, boy, they'd be a really tough team to play. And be careful what you wish for, I guess. Now we got 'em."
The Irish will look to win their second national title 10 years after their first in front of an in-state crowd three hours south of their South Bend campus, leading the Aggies' coach to put out a recruiting call for some new fans tomorrow.
Comparing his team to the men's tourney's unlikely underdog, Gary Blair hopes that some local fans will recognize a kindred spirit in his squad.
"I want to recruit those Butler fans," he said. "Right now, we need the Indianapolis fans to come out and support us."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report