Round three of UConn-Notre Dame will be for the Big East tournament championship
Hartford, Conn – “We’re the two best teams in the league, and it’s fitting the two best teams should play,” said Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, after his team advanced to a third meeting with nemesis Notre Dame by defeating Syracuse 64-51. Earlier in the evening Notre Dame punched their ticket to the final with an easier 83-59 victory over Louisville.
In the evening’s first game, Louisville crept to within six of the Irish right before halftime, only to see the Irish go on a 36-11 run over the first 12 minutes of the second half to blow the game open. Kayla McBride led the Irish with 17 points and five assists after struggling the previous day against South Florida.
“I was pressing a little bit. I think I was rattled, I just wasn’t myself,” said McBride of her quarterfinal performance. “I think I needed to let the game come to me and to play within myself.”
Skylar Diggins contributed 14 points, including 4-of-5 from three-point land, including two back-to-back when Louisville had tied the game at 16.
“My teammates did a good job finding me,” Diggins commented on her three-point shooting.
Shoni Schimmel led Louisville with 20 points and six rebounds. Sara Hammond added 12 points and six rebounds.
“They (Notre Dame) did a nice job scoring when they needed to,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, “and they made some big shots when they had to.”
In the late game, an aggressive Syracuse team made nothing easy for Connecticut all night.
Head coach Quentin Hillsman explained his team did not go into this game to compete, they went in it to win.
“I’m disappointed in the loss,” Hillsman said. “When you play a team like UConn you always want to come out and compete as hard as you can and try to get a win. I thought our kids competed at a tremendously high level, that every play was just so critical, and at times we broke down but always made it up and got ourselves back into the basketball game.”
Connecticut raced to a 39-24 halftime lead by dominating the boards, taking a 22-10 margin into the locker room. However, Syracuse even outscored the Huskies in the second half, 27-25 in keeping the UConn lead around ten points most of the second half.
UConn received a second straight strong outing from freshman Breanna Stewart, who scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds while blocking two shots. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (14), Stefanie Dolson (13) and Bria Hartley (11) also scored in double figures for the Huskies.
Kelly Faris, after playing only 14 minutes the night before due to a strained foot, played 36 minutes scoring seven points with 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Syracuse senior all-conference center Kayla ALexander led the Orange with 14 ponts and six rebounds. In the first meeting between the two teams, won handily by Connecticut, foul trouble limited Alexander to only 11 minutes.
“Tonight it was huge,” Hillsman said of Alexander’s performance. “She required attention in the post, she got 12 free throw attempts and that was big for us.”
As they head into the title game, definitely the last Big East title game for UConn and most likely Notre Dame, neither coach gave a deep, serious answer to the question what it would take for their team to win.
“Well, we wanted to play in South Bend, that might have helped us,” joked Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw , “For us we’re going in with the same mind-set we did with both the games this year.”
“I don’t have any thoughts about it,” said Auriemma . “I’m not playing, I’m going to coach the same way I coached the last two games. So what I think and what I feel doesn’t matter one iota.”
“It’s going to be another war,” added McGraw, “and it will get us ready for the NCAA tournament, whether we win or lose.”