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ND Women’s Basketball: ND wins Big East title outright

Matthew Robison | Monday, February 27, 2012

In a matchup of Big East behemoths, senior Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds as No. 3 Notre Dame took down No. 4 Connecticut on Monday to capture sole possession of the conference regular season crown.

“I was really pleased with our defense, especially in the second half,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw told uconnhuskies.com on Monday. “I thought we really got into the driving lanes a little bit more.”

The Irish (28-2, 15-1 Big East) defeated the Huskies 74-67 in overtime on Jan. 7 in the Purcell Pavilion. The season sweep gives the Irish their first outright Big East regular season title in program history.

“I think this team is really special,” McGraw said. “They have really high goals, they are a competitive group, they have a lot of pride and I love that about them. I’m happy for them, and I appreciate that they are happy for me, winning the first one. I hope to have a chance to have some more. I love this group.”

Notre Dame will head back to Hartford, Conn., as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The loss pushes the Huskies to the third seed in the tournament after losing a tiebreaker to St. John’s, who broke Connecticut’s 99-game home winning streak Feb. 18.

At the half, the Irish led by three. McGraw said she knew there were things the Irish needed to do differently if they wanted to secure the victory.

“At halftime we tried to get off and help on the dribble from [senior guard Tiffany] Hayes a little bit,” she said. “I thought we did that. They had some turnovers in the second half that led to some layups for us and that was a huge momentum shift.”

Novosel agreed the focus needed to be on defense coming out of the locker room.

“That was a point of emphasis at halftime,” Novosel said. “We wanted to stop them on defense, not outscore them.”

The game was tight until the final few minutes. The game was tied at 51 with 12:46 remaining before junior guard Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame on an 11-2 run.

“We came out here and played for coach,” Diggins said. “She deserves it. This is something that she can add to her repertoire. She is a Hall of Fame coach and this is something that she hadn’t accomplished, and we wanted to do it for her.”

With 3:11 to play, Novosel hit a three-pointer to put the Irish up by 13 points. At that point, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma pulled his starters and all but conceded victory to the Irish.

Dating back to the 2011 Final Four, the Irish have beaten the Huskies three straight times, the first team to accomplish the feat since North Carolina did from 2004-07.

“It’s a pride thing,” Diggins said. “We wanted to step out of the shadow of UConn. I don’t know the last time we won a game here. It was a great team effort in a hostile environment where teams can get down quickly. We stayed together.”

A rematch may be looming on the horizon as Notre Dame and UConn could square off again in the Big East tournament title game. The Huskies have won either the Big East regular season or tournament title each of the last 17 years. With a victory Monday, the Irish stopped a six-year during which Connecticut won or shared the Big East regular season crown.

As the No. 1 seed, the Irish will receive a double-bye through the first two rounds of the Big East tournament. Notre Dame will next take the court in the tournament quarterfinals March 4 at 2 p.m. in the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu