By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s stay at the top of the polls will last one week. And the Huskies will also be chasing Notre Dame in the Big East standings.
Skylar Diggins made two free throws with 49.4 seconds left to give No. 5 Notre Dame a 73-72 win over top-ranked UConn Saturday at sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
It was the fifth win for the Irish (12-1 overall, 1-0 Big East) over the Huskies (12-1, 0-1) in their last six meetings. Of the five losses for UConn, it led in the second half of all five and with less than 50 seconds to go in three of them.
“A lot of the games we’ve had we’ve been up with a minute or less than a minute left and have handed it over,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “We’d do something to screw it up. It’s up to us to figure it out and find a way to win the big games. We haven’t been able to do that the last couple years and there are a lot of things that we have to fix.”
UConn had three shots to win after the Diggins free throws. Breanna Stewart had one try blocked by Ariel Braker. She later missed from the top of the key but Kelly Faris got a loose ball under the basket and got a time out before she was tied up. With 10 seconds left, Faris penetrated and kicked it out to a wide open Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for a 3-pointer. Her shot came up short and the Irish rebounded and ran out the clock.
“You’ve got the best 3-point shooter in the country with a wide open three to win it and it doesn’t go in,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’d be more upset if we had the wrong player take the wrong shot at the wrong time. We came out of the time out, had the right shot, it just didn’t go in.”
Kayla McBride led Notre Dame with 21 points, doing much of her work against UConn’s best defender Faris.
“This one is on me,” Faris said. “Being one of the main leaders on the team … I’m a senior. I’m supposed to come in and I’m supposed to set the tone and everyone is supposed to follow. That didn’t happen. There were a ton of mistakes. For me, it started with me from the very beginning.
“Defensively, that’s what my teammates look for from me and McBride got about every shot that she wanted and hit almost every single one. She hit key shots at key times right from the beginning. A lot of times our game comes from our defense, that’s what my team looks for from me, and I didn’t show up today for that.”
Diggins finished with 19 points though UConn did force her into seven turnovers. Freshman Michaela Mabrey stunned UConn, though, with 11 points off the bench.
The Irish are now 2-10 at Gampel Pavilion with the other win coming in 2005.
“I think it’s great to win anywhere we play,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “But this is great for our team. It builds confidence for our team. It’s Jan. 5. It’s not a game that we’re going to change a whole lot of things this early in the season. We are still learning and growing and hopefully we’ll continue to get better.”
Mosqueda-Lewis and Stefanie Dolson had 17 points and eight rebounds each for the Huskies. Faris had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds while also chipping in seven assists and five steals.
There were 10 ties and nine lead changes.
A Diggins basket gave Notre Dame a 13-8 lead. UConn answered with a 10-2 run, including five points from Mosqueda-Lewis, to move in front. But Notre Dame responded with a 14-4 spurt with five points by Mabrey. The Irish’s biggest lead of the half was nine at 29-20. Down eight, UConn closed on a 10-4 run capped by a Bria Hartley’s basket to trail 38-36 at halftime.
The Huskies took their biggest lead of the second half at 60-55 on a Stewart layup with 11:34 left. But Notre Dame again had an answer as Jewell Loyd’s layup off a Braker block put the Irish up 65-63 with 5:58 remaining. Stewart gave UConn its last lead at 72-70 with 2:28 to go. Natalie Achonwa hit a free throw to make it a one-point game before Diggins drove around Hartley in a battle of All-Americans to draw the foul and convert the free throws.
“I should have made (the layup),” Diggins said. “It was a good play call by Coach and we executed well. Everybody was moving with a purpose and it made the defense turn their heads a little bit and it gave me a window of opportunity to attack the basket.
“It’s a good win for us. We have a lot of basketball still to play this year, but this is a good win to have on our resume.”
Mosqueda-Lewis’ shot was similar to the one Hartley had when St. John’s ended the Huskies’ 99-game home winning streak last February. Like Hartley’s bid, Mosqueda-Lewis hit the front rim.
“I just missed,” Mosqueda-Lewis said.
“She’s one we want with the ball in her hands,” Faris said. “She had an open shot and unfortunately it didn’t go in and none of us were there to get the ball. It should have never come down to that point. That didn’t lose us the game. There were a lot of mistakes from tipoff to the end that lost us the game.”
Notre Dame was scheduled to leave for Orlando, Fla., on a 7:45 p.m. commercial flight Saturday but it had been delayed by at least an hour. The Irish play at South Florida Tuesday.
UConn will take Sunday off and will return to practice Monday to get ready for Wednesday’s game against Georgetown at McDonough Arena (7:30 p.m., SNY). The Huskies have not lost back-to-back games since 1993 which is also the same season of their last loss to the Hoyas.
“When you play against a really good team one or two plays, or one series up and down the floor sometimes decides the game,” Auriemma said. “That can come at the 15-minute mark, the 10-minute mark, down the stretch. We got two really good shots and a great shot at the end of the game. A play here or a play there decides the game.”
And Notre Dame made one more of them.