By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is looking forward to Saturday’s Big East opener against Notre Dame at Gampel Pavilion. It’s the first of what could be up to four meetings between the top-ranked Huskies and fifth-ranked Irish. There will definitely be a rematch in South Bend on March 5, and time will tell whether there will be showdowns in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
In the first 36 years of UConn’s program, the Huskies did not play a team four times in a single season. It has happened in each of the last two seasons — both times with Notre Dame. The Huskies lead the overall series 29-8 but the Irish have won four of the last five including victories in the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Final Four semifinals.
But before we look forward, let’s look back on the 2012 meetings between UConn and Notre Dame.
Jan. 7 (Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Ind.): Paced by Bria Hartley, UConn led by seven with 11 minutes to go and by two with the ball with 25 seconds left. But Skylar Diggins reached around Hartley from behind to knock the ball away and Kayla McBride turned the turnover into a layup with 19 seconds remaining to force overtime. The Irish held the Huskies without a field goal in the extra session and Natalie Novosel hit six free throws to ice a 74-67 win before a sellout crowd of 9,149. Hartley had 25 points, nine rebounds, and six assists for UConn but also committed seven of the Huskies’ season high 27 turnovers. Diggins had 22 points and Novosel 20 for Notre Dame. It was the Irish’s first win at home over UConn since 2004.
Feb. 27 (XL Center, Hartford, Conn.): With 3:11 remaining and his team down by 13, UConn coach Geno Auriemma called a time out and cleared his bench. The Huskies’ five-year reign as Big East regular season champion was over. Novosel had 21 points and Diggins 20 as Notre Dame won its first Big East outright regular season title with a convincing 72-59 victory before 15,132. UConn, needing a win to tie Notre Dame for the crown, led by as many as seven in the first half but trailed 38-35 at the break. The Huskies regained the lead at 51-49 with 13:06 left but committed five turnovers in their next six possessions as Notre Dame used a 13-2 run, including eight points from Diggins, to take a lead it would not relinquish. Tiffany Hayes had 22 points for UConn but also committed six turnovers.
March 6 (XL Center, Hartford, Conn.): The tears of eight days earlier were replaced by cheers. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 19 points and eight rebounds as UConn captured its fifth straight Big East tournament title with a 63-54 win in the championship game. The third-seeded Huskies avenged earlier losses to No. 2-seed St. John’s and top-seeded Notre Dame in back-to-back days to win their 18th tourney title in 24 years and deny the Irish their first. Notre Dame erased a 10-point first-half deficit to take a 36-33 lead early in the second. But this time UConn had an answer as Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley keyed a 10-1 run that put the Huskies ahead to stay. Kelly Faris’ 3-pointer iced it. Mosqueda-Lewis was the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Hartley and Stefanie Dolson. The win was the 800th of Auriemma’s Hall of Fame career.
April 1 (Pepsi Center, Denver, Colo.): The Huskies were one stop away from playing for their eighth national championship. They didn’t get it. Novosel kept Notre Dame alive with a rebound basket with 4.6 seconds left and Brittany Mallory hit two clutch 3-pointers in the overtime as Notre Dame pulled away for an 83-75 win before a sellout crowd of 19,028. UConn trailed 65-59 before Faris scored the last six points of an 8-0 run and her free throws gave the Huskies a two-point edge with 11.8 seconds to go. Diggins missed a shot to tie but Novosel beat the Huskies to the rebound and scored to even it at 67. UConn had a chance to take a lead in the final 2:00 of overtime but Diggins denied a 2-on-1 break by blocking a Hartley layup and getting the rebound. Mallory then buried her second straight trey to make it 76-72 with 1:29 left and the Irish iced it at the foul line. Novosel had 20 points, Diggins 19, and Devereaux Peters a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame. Dolson had 20 points and Hartley 18, including the 1,000th of her career, for UConn. Baylor would beat Notre Dame 80-61 in the national championship game two nights later to complete a 40-0 season.