HARTFORD, Conn. – Skylar Diggins cut the final strand off the net and twirled it around. Finally, Notre Dame had its first Big East tournament championship.
Six previous times the Irish had played Connecticut in the tournament title game and had fallen in each one, including the previous two. Now in the final Big East title game, the Irish were champions.
It’s special because it’s the last one, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. We leave here champions and go home undefeated. To win it here makes it even better.
Natalie Achonwa’s layup with 1.8 seconds left lifted No. 2 Notre Dame to a 61-59 victory over third-ranked UConn on Tuesday night.
Diggins stole an errant pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with 8 seconds left, and after dribbling through a few defenders, found Achonwa for the uncontested lay-in.
Kelly Faris then heaved a desperation attempt from 65 feet that fell harmlessly off the backboard, setting off a wild celebration for the Irish, who have won 26 straight games.
I’ve had a lot of big wins in my years here – wins against UConn to go to national championship games, it definitely is up there, Diggins said. It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program.
The Irish players, wearing championship hats and T-shirts, set up a dance line to celebrate and did an Irish jig in front of the school band.
It’s great for our program, Diggins said. I’m excited for the team going into the NCAA tournament. This is our coming of age.
Now with the Big East title, a national championship is the only thing missing from Diggins’ impressive résumé.
The Irish (31-1) weren’t going to be denied in their final chance to win that elusive conference championship. Earlier in the day, Notre Dame announced it would be joining the ACC starting next season – a year earlier than expected.
Kayla McBride, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, scored 23 points to lead the Irish. Jewell Loyd finished with 16 and Diggins had 12.
Stefanie Dolson had 18 points and 14 rebounds, while Breanna Stewart had 16 points for UConn (29-4), which had won the last five Big East tournament titles but fell to Notre Dame for the third time this season.
The Huskies trailed 59-53 with 2:55 left before tying it at 59.
At this point, how I played isn’t really in my mind, Dolson said. We fought in the second half to tie it up ... at the end of the day we didn’t win.
They had a chance to take the lead but Faris missed a layup. She got her own rebound and after calling a timeout, the Huskies had a chance before Mosqueda-Lewis got caught in the corner and threw the ball away to Diggins, setting up the finish.
The Irish have dominated the series recently with seven victories in the last eight meetings. No team has ever dominated the Huskies like that since UConn won its first national championship in 1995.
The only UConn victory came in the conference title game last season, but the Huskies couldn’t pull off a third straight win over Notre Dame in the tournament championship.
The loss ended a run of 19 straight seasons that Connecticut had won either the regular season or postseason conference title.
These teams could potentially meet for a fourth time in the NCAA tournament. It would be the third straight season that they would meet four times in one year.
The teams met eight days earlier and the Irish came away with a triple-overtime victory that clinched them their second straight conference regular-season title.