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ND Women’s Basketball: Unlucky number seven

Molly Sammon | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Notre Dame fell short of winning its first-ever Big East tournament as it suffered a 63-54 loss Tuesday to Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. It was the program’s seventh berth in the title game, and all seven times the Huskies have defeated the Irish.

“I thought it was a hard fought battle and a really good game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought in the first half we were only down one without having [senior guard] Natalie Novosel in the game for a big chunk in the half. I thought we’d be better in the second half, and we just didn’t shoot it well.

“We shot better from the 3-point line than 2-point [shots], and couldn’t even make a free throw. I think we really did some things that didn’t help us, but they came out and really won the game. It was a great game. They just played better.”

Though the No. 3 Irish beat the No. 4 Huskies in the three games prior to Tuesday’s, once in the last year’s Final Four and twice during the regular season this year, Connecticut ended the streak and earned its fifth consecutive conference tournament championship and 18th in program history.

“It’s tough to beat a good team three times,” McGraw said. “We won here Monday, so I don’t really think that we have to do anything different. I don’t think there was more pressure on us … I just think they outplayed us.”

Huskies coach Geno Auriemma notched the 800th win of his distinguished career with the victory. He became the sixth coach in NCAA women’s basketball to reach that number, doing so in the shortest amount of games.

Junior guard Skylar Diggins led the Irish in scoring with 16 points on the evening, but made only 7-of-19 shot attempts.

With 8:46 left in the game, a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kayla McBride set-up the Irish for a potential comeback, but the Connecticut defense did not let the Irish score from the field for the next five minutes.

“I think they knew our offense, and they were just kind of keeping us out of it instead of attacking it,” McBride said. “I think we kind of got complacent a little bit, and just weren’t in our attack mode that we’re usually in. They were just boxing out and rebounding.”

The Irish took a 10-6 lead early on before Connecticut’s freshman forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis took over for a 15-3 Huskies run. Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points on the day. Connecticut sophomore guard Bria Hartley contributed 18 points to the win.

Irish junior guard Kaila Turner sunk a 3-pointer to narrow the Irish deficit to 31-30 at the half. The Irish took the lead right out of the break 36-33, but gave it up as Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis paired up for a 10-1 run. The Huskies never let go of the lead again.

“I think we’ll respond well [to the loss],” McGraw said. “I think we have responded well after losses. We haven’t had a lot of practice, but I think they don’t like to lose. So they’ll be ready to go. It could be a good thing.”

The Irish will head home to prepare for the NCAA tournament, which begins March 18. The first two rounds of the tournament will be played at Purcell Pavilion.

“We’re only guaranteed one game,” Diggins said. “This is a great game going into the tournament. This is a Final Four team, a championship-caliber team. It’s great for us to play in the Big East and play these competitive games going into the tournament. We’ll learn from it when we get in the gym tomorrow and throughout the week, and we have to practice hard and get ready for that first tournament game.”

Contact Molly Sammon at [email protected]