INDIANAPOLIS — The Notre Dame women’s basketball team drew exactly the adversary it wanted in the Final Four. Call the Fighting Irish stubborn or just plain silly, but that opponent was none other than powerhouse Connecticut, which had upended Notre Dame three straight times this season and 12 in row overall.
Unfazed by that stretch of domination, Notre Dame erased a six-point halftime deficit to log a cathartic 72-63 victory over the two-time defending NCAA champions on Sunday night before 16,421 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The victory sends the Fighting Irish to its second national championship game in its third appearance in the Final Four. Notre Dame, which beat a second straight No. 1 seed, will play Texas A&M on Tuesday.
Sophomore point guard Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame with a team-high 28 points on 10-for-14 shooting, and junior guard Natalie Novosel shot 8 for 13 en route to 22 points. In the final game of her college career, Connecticut’s Maya Moore, perhaps the most accomplished player in the history of the sport, finished with 36 points to lead the Huskies, who lost for just the second time this season.
“In the front of our minds was the three losses,” said Diggins, who added 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. “I just wanted to make sure I stayed poised. I kind of wanted to be the voice of calm even though sometimes I was pretending.”
Behind by a point in the early stages of the second half, Notre Dame (31-7) took the lead, 38-37, with 14 minutes 49 seconds to play on Becca Bruszewski’s layup after Devereaux Peters converted a three-point play on the previous possession. The Huskies tied it on a free throw from freshman guard Bria Hartley, but another three-point play, this one from Diggins, made it 41-38, and Notre Dame didn’t trail the rest of the way.
Senior guard Lorin Dixon sank a jumper to draw Connecticut to 41-40, but Notre Dame scored the next six points, including four foul shots by Novosel, for a 47-40 lead with 9:42 left. Moore uncharacteristically missed two free throws on the Huskies’ next possession before teammate Kelly Faris, a sophomore guard, made a jumper to whittle the margin to five.
Diggins then swished a pair of foul shots, but Connecticut (36-2) got a three-pointer from Hartley to make it 49-45. Senior guard Brittany Mallory did the same for Notre Dame, and following Moore’s jumper, Novosel hit nothing but net on a three-point attempt, and the Fighting Irish were up, 55-47.
Moments later, the arena erupted when Novosel’s jumper gave Notre Dame a 10-point lead with 6:54 to play. The Fighting Irish went ahead 59-47 on freshman forward Natalie Achonwa’s jumper and then 61-49 when she made another field goal.
But Connecticut predictably wasn’t done. Playing her customary best basketball when the stakes were highest, Moore scored the next seven points, including a three-pointer and then rebounding her three-point miss soon after to score on a short jumper with just over three minutes to play.
Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma immediately called timeout, but out of the stoppage, Novosel collected a rebound and put it back with 2:47 to play. That gave the Fighting Irish a 63-57 advantage.
Not to be outdone, Moore responded with another three-pointer to move Connecticut to 63-60 with 2:28 to go. But again Notre Dame didn’t wilt, getting Novosel’s jumper before Diggins stole the ball and went in for a layup that all but sealed it with 1:35 remaining.
“It’s an incredible victory for our team and our program to beat a quality team with a great player like Maya Moore,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought Skylar was just amazing. She was simply amazing today in both halves. We made big shot after big shot. We answered their runs. We were resilient.”
Moore had an opportunity to make it a bit more interesting in the closing seconds, but after being fouled on a three-point attempt, the Big East Player of the Year missed 2 of 3 from the line, and Connecticut was still behind, 67-61. Time then ran out on the Huskies’ chances of playing for an NCAA record tying eighth national championship in the program’s 12th appearance in the Final Four.
Moore’s point total was the third most in a national semifinal game and fourth most in any Final Four game. She scored in double figures in 149 of 153 career games, scored at least 30 points for the 12th time, including her seventh this season, and moved into third all-time in points in the NCAA tournament.
“There are always positives and negatives out of everything,” said Moore, whose final line included eight rebounds and four steals but missing 4 of 7 foul shots. “So like Coach said, I’m going to have to choose to remember the great things and really how fortunate I was to be able to be a part of so many record-breaking seasons, games, whatever it may be. It’s just tough that is the current taste in my mouth right now, but we’ll deal with it.”