NEW ORLEANS -- Geno Auriemma shook his head in amazement. With all the incredible players he has coached, he couldn't remember a better game than the one Breanna Stewart had against Notre Dame last night. Not with what was on the line.
The 6-4 freshman scored a career-high 29 points and blocked four shots to lead the Huskies back to the national championship game with an 83-65 win over the Fighting Irish.
"Given the stage and what was at stake, I don't know that I've seen any bigger performance," Auriemma said. "I know there's been NCAA Tournament games that we've had certain individuals play great, but I don't remember a player having a better game in this environment . . . My God, she was amazing tonight."
"It was really impressive to have a freshman have that type of game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "To come into the Final Four and play with such confidence. You don't expect a freshman to rise to the occasion like that. Phenomenal performance for her."
The Huskies will face Louisville in the title game tomorrow night, and it will be an all-Big East affair after the Cardinals rallied to beat California, 64-57, in the other semifinal. UConn will try to earn its eighth national title and match Tennessee for the most in women's basketball history.
North Babylon's Bria Hartley had 15 points, five rebounds and four steals for UConn.
No team has dominated the Huskies the way the Irish had in the past few seasons. UConn (34-4) lost to the Irish in the previous two national semifinals and dropped three thrilling games to them this season. But the Huskies wouldn't let it happen again, ending the brilliant career of Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins. She had 10 points and shot 3-for-15 as the Fighting Irish (35-2) had their winning streak end at 30 games.
Said Auriemma, "Once you get here, you're only going to beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they're really, really good. For one night, that's what's great about the NCAA Tournament. For one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were."
Diggins said she spoke with Auriemma after the loss. "Don't let this define my career," she said he told her, and that "I've done more for women's basketball than some people have done who have won four championships . . . He just told me I was a good player. You respect that coming from such a good coach."
Cardinals on a roll. Antonita Slaughter scored 18 points on six three-pointers for Louisville, which clawed back from a 10-point halftime deficit for its third upset after beating Baylor and Tennessee. Bria Smith scored 17 for the Cardinals (29-8), who were a No. 5 seed and became the first team seeded worse than fourth to win a Final Four game.
The Cardinals will play for the men's championship tonight and the women's championship tomorrow night. Louisville is the 10th school to have both basketball teams reach the Final Four in the same season. Only UConn won both titles in the same season (2004).
"The way I look at it, I think the men are trying to feed off of our success," women's coach Jeff Walz said with a smirk before adding that he'd received word from Atlanta that the Louisville men "were in the hotel lobby jumping up and down and cheering for us."