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Notre Dame women finally defeat UConn in tournament

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins celebrates her team's 61-59

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins celebrates her team's 61-59 win in the Big East Conference women's tournament championship against Connecticut. (March 12, 2013) Credit: AP

HARTFORD -- Set your clocks ahead. Not only is there no longer going to be a Big East as we knew it, but that grand old league's imperial women's basketball power, UConn, left the final conference tournament without its traditional championship trophy.

Notre Dame -- finally, in its seventh title-game matchup against 18-time Big East Tournament champion UConn -- Tuesday night escaped with a 61-59 win on a layup by Natalie Achonwa as the final two seconds bled off. She was sprung in the open on a pass by two-time conference player of the year Skylar Diggins, her game-high sixth assist.

UConn (29-4) came from 13 points behind late in the first half and, with 18.4 seconds left, had an improbable 59-59 tie and the ball. But guard Kelly Faris' turnover, on a wayward pass, set Notre Dame up for the winner.

"I think, before that play, Skylar said, 'They're tired,' " Achonwa said. "I had played 14 minutes . I had all the energy in the world."

For almost 30 minutes, Notre Dame (31-1) appeared to have left UConn back on standard time, with UConn coach Geno Auriemma "speechless on the bench," he said. "I have no idea why we were so out of sync."

Though never lacking effort during an entire evening of rugged, demolition-derby play, with bodies regularly hitting the floor in rebound scrambles and drives to the basket, UConn was shooting poorly while Notre Dame's Kayla McBride was on her way to a game-high 23 points.

After taking a 4-0 lead, UConn didn't get in front again until freshman Breanna Stewart's jumper with 9:45 left put UConn up 45-43. But UConn never led again.

Part of UConn's problem was failing to make a three-point basket -- going 0-for-5 -- for the first time in 403 games, but it still was on the verge of restoring what has been the natural order of things in the mad final two minutes.

Down 59-53, Stewart (16 points) converted a nifty pass from North Babylon's Bria Hartley (nine points, two assists, six turnovers). Then Hartley stole a pass and raced downcourt for a pull-up jumper to cut Notre Dame's lead to 59-57 with 1:39 left.

Notre Dame was wearing its "luck of the Irish'' green-trimmed uniforms. And, although green may represent tranquillity as well as good fortune, there was nothing tranquil about the game's finish.

McBride missed a layup with 1:15 remaining and UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fed 6-5 Stephanie Dolson (18 points, 14 rebounds) for a layup to tie the score at 59 with 58 seconds to go. Diggins missed a layup and Mosqueda-Lewis rebounded. But Faris' killer turnover set up the Notre Dame winner.

And the sun set in the East on UConn. Except, UConn already has set its clocks ahead. The NCAA Tournament beckons and, "at this point," Faris said, "this program is about how you respond, and that's what Coach teaches us how to do."

New York Sports