By Carl Adamec
HARTFORD, Conn. — After dominating the league for a quarter-century, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team will leave the Big East without being a champion.
Natalie Achonwa’s layup with 1.8 seconds left gave top-seeded Notre Dame its first Big East tournament title with a 61-59 win over the No. 2 Huskies before 9,085 fans at the XL Center.
The higher seed won all 14 tournament games coming into the final. The higher seed had never swept every game in th tourney’s 31-year history.
UConn (29-4) used a 6-0 run to tie the game at 59 and had possession with the shot clock off and 18.4 seconds left. But after a time out, the Huskies never got into an offense and Skylar Diggins stole Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ pass with eight seconds to go. The All-American raced down the court and found an open Achonwa for the lead. The Huskies had two time outs left but didn’t use them and a desperation heave fell far short.
Notre Dame (31-1) has won seven of the last eight against UConn.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kayla McBride led Notre Dame with 23 points while all-tournament picks Jewell Loyd and Skylar Diggins added 16 and 12 each.
The Irish spotted UConn the first two baskets before taking command with a 17-4 run. It was 24-15 when the Huskies put together a 7-0 run to close within two. But the Irish responded with 11 straight points, including seven by Loyd, to lead by 15. Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored the final baskets of the period to account for the 35-26 halftime score.
UConn took its only lead of the half on a Stewart jumper with 9:45 left. But McBride hit two straight hoops and the Irish eventually won a championship game for the first time in seven tries against UConn.
UConn was looking for its sixth straight tournament crown and 19th overall. With Notre Dame also winning the regular season title, this marks the first year since 1993 the Huskies did not win one of the titles.
All-tournament picks Stefanie Dolson (16) and Stewart (14) were in double figures for UConn. The Huskies finished 0-for-5 from 3-point land, ending a streak of 403 games with at least one trey. The last time UConn did not make a 3 was in the 2002 NCAA final against Oklahoma in San Antonio.