ND Women’s Basketball: History in Hartford
Matthew Robison | Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Notre Dame has beaten Connecticut seven out of the last eight times it has played the Huskies. But on March 12, the No. 2 Irish did something they never have – win the Big East tournament.
In its last shot to sweep the Big East regular season and postseason championships, Notre Dame (31-1, 19-0 Big East) stole a 61-59 victory away from the No. 3 Huskies (29-4, 16-3) at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
With eight seconds left, Big East Player of the Year and senior guard Skylar Diggins stole a pass and eventually found junior forward Natalie Achonwa for the game-winning layup.
“It’s special because it’s the last one,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. ”We leave here champions and go home undefeated. To win it here makes it even better.”
Fittingly, Diggins capped her highlight reel of a career with another memorable assist. But Diggins credited her teammate with the late-game heroics.
“[Achonwa] called my name at the end and I looked up,” Diggins said. “She finished.”
When Diggins came away with the ball, the Connecticut defense swarmed her, leaving Achonwa alone under the hoop.
“As soon as I saw my man leak out that was the safety, I was just dipping to the basket,” Achonwa said.
Notre Dame finished Big East regular season play with a perfect 18-0 conference record. Earlier in the tournament, it beat South Florida and No. 16 Louisville to earn a spot in the final.
The Irish beat the Bulls, 75-66, on March 10 behind a monstrous 20-point, 20-rebound effort from Achonwa. She became the first player at Notre Dame to go for 20 and 20 since 1988.
In the semifinals, Notre Dame cruised past the Cardinals to win 83-59 behind 17 points from junior guard Kayla McBride.
With 12 points and 16 points in the final, respectively, Diggins and freshman guard Jewell Loyd made the All-Tournament team.
McBride lived up to her reputation of stepping up when it matters most. As the championship game’s leading scorer with 23 points, McBride took home the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
“It’s a big game and I like playing in big games,” McBride said. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates – passing me the ball, setting good screens. It was a great team win.”
In its six previous tries, Notre Dame had lost to Connecticut in the Big East championship game. But several streaks snapped when the buzzer sounded. The Huskies did not hit a three-point shot for the first time since 2002, ending a 403-game streak.
“That was a total team effort,” Diggins said of the Irish defense. “I think it started with our communication on the screens.”
This season marks the first in which Connecticut did not take home at least a share of the Big East regular season title or the tournament championship in 19 years.
At the same time, several streaks also lengthened. Notre Dame has won 26 straight games since its first and only loss of the season, which came Dec. 5, 2012 against No. 1 Baylor.
If recent history repeats itself, Notre Dame will see the Huskies again in the NCAA tournament. Last season, the Irish swept the two regular season matchups before falling in the Big East championship game. But, when Notre Dame saw the Huskies again in the Final Four, the Irish won in overtime to advance to their second straight national championship game.
McGraw said Notre Dame takes pride in its Big East title, but the ultimate goal of a national championship is still the task at hand.
“Now we’re 0-0 and we’ve got to focus on the NCAA tournament,” McGraw said.
On Monday the Irish drew the No. 1 seed in the Norfolk Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame will face off against No. 16 Tennessee-Martin at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa.
Contact Matthew Robison at email@example.com.