Huskies, Irish advance to Big East final

Syracuse's Brittney Sykes, right, tries to maintain control of the basketball as UConn's Bria Hartley (14) and Kelly Faris defend during the first half of Monday night's Big East tournament semifinal at the XL Center. The No. 2 Huskies advanced to tonight's title game against No. 1 Notre Dame with a 64-51 victory. Hartley scored 11 points for UConn, which lost twice to the Irish during the regular season.
Syracuse's Brittney Sykes, right, tries to maintain control of the basketball as UConn's Bria Hartley (14) and Kelly Faris defend during the first half of Monday night's Big East tournament semifinal at the XL Center. The No. 2 Huskies advanced to tonight's title game against No. 1 Notre Dame with a 64-51 victory. Hartley scored 11 points for UConn, which lost twice to the Irish during the regular season. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Hartford — It was difficult to call UConn-Notre Dame a "rivalry" when the Huskies had won 28 of the first 32 games, all the way to the 2011 Final Four.

It was as difficult to find much animosity, too, certainly not to the notable (and sometimes entertaining) levels of UConn-Tennessee.

Recent developments, however, have turned this into the game's new Yankees-Red Sox, renewing itself again tonight in the in the Big East tournament championship game.

It's UConn-Notre Dame at the XL Center (7 p.m., ESPN), eight days after the Huskies and their 35 turnovers watched the Irish celebrate the regular season title at Purcell Pavilion.

The Huskies advanced with a 64-51 win over Syracuse in Monday's late semifinal that followed Notre Dame's 83-59 win over Louisville.

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins said after her game that the Irish don't hate UConn, but have a "distaste."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma replied, "We have seven national championships. They have one. I'd feel the same way."

Not to suggest UConn-Notre Dame was inevitable, but even Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw assumed facts not yet in evidence.

It was after the Irish disposed of Louisville that McGraw was asked about another game against UConn.

"It's tough to beat a good team three times in one year," McGraw said, "but win or lose, it'll get us ready for the NCAA tournament."

A perfectly cliché-ridden coach's answer. Except … UConn and Syracuse hadn't yet started the night's other semifinal.

McGraw caught herself a few seconds later and grinned.

"Provided Syracuse doesn't win," she said. "Oops."

Turns out there was no chance of that. The Huskies were terrific in the first half and unstable in the second, but never allowed Syracuse closer than nine. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart scored 14 points apiece, Stefanie Dolson had 13 and nine rebounds, Bria Hartley scored 11 and Kelly Faris had 12 rebounds.

"We can't turn the ball over 35 times (tonight)," Dolson said of the rematch.

The Irish have beaten Connecticut in six of the last seven games. They played four times in 2011, four times last year and may play four times this year.

"When you get to the NCAA tournament, you'd much rather play someone else," McGraw said. "In the league, you expect it. It'll be interesting when the league changes and we won't have to play them three times (before the Final Four). It could be refreshing."

Notre Dame is 0-6 in the championship game of this tournament, losing to UConn in either Hartford or Storrs. McGraw joked Monday night that she'd "love to play this in South Bend."

Still, the record is the lone blemish on the program's resume.

"It would mean a lot to the program, to get a Big East tournament championship for coach McGraw," Notre Dame Diggins said. "It's what we're missing besides a national championship."

Notre Dame hasn't won the national championship since 2001.

Kayla McBride led the Irish with 17 points in the win over Louisville. Diggins had 14, while Natalie Achonwa and Kaila Turner had 11 apiece.

m.dimauro@theday.com

UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, right, looks to pass while being guarded by Syracuse's Rachel Coffey (3) during Monday night's Big East tournament semifinal. The Huskies won 64-51 and will face top-seeded Notre Dame in tonight's title game at the XL Center in Hartford.
UConn freshman Breanna Stewart, right, looks to pass while being guarded by Syracuse's Rachel Coffey (3) during Monday night's Big East tournament semifinal. The Huskies won 64-51 and will face top-seeded Notre Dame in tonight's title game at the XL Center in Hartford. Jessica Hill/AP Photo
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