Fourth time's the charm
New Orleans - Inspiration comes in many forms, not the least of which is being told no, you can't. And for the UConn women, vexed so many times recently by Notre Dame, redemption has never been so gratifying.
All those nights, all those doubts. Can't win a close one. Notre Dame is "in their heads." Notre Dame "has their number."
And now Notre Dame is headed home.
While UConn plays for its eighth national championship.
UConn erased the bitterness of three losses to the Irish and seven of the last eight with a rousing 83-65 victory over the Irish on Sunday at New Orleans Arena.
The Huskies (34-4) play Louisville in a rematch of the 2009 national championship game Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.
The difference, really, between three previous losses and one momentous win: the emergence of freshman Breanna Stewart, who was magnificent again Sunday. To think it was after a loss to Notre Dame in January that UConn coach Geno Auriemma wondered how long it would take Stewart to adjust to the physicality of the college game.
And the in the Final Four, Stewart was the best player on the floor.
She scored 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 16 points and Bria Hartley scored 16 as well.
"Earlier in the season, (Stewart) took this hard and was putting a lot of pressure on herself," Auriemma said. "The last few weeks, she decided 'I'm just going out and playing basketball.' She was amazing tonight."
Kayla McBride led the Irish with 16. Skylar Diggins scored 10 but on 3-for-15 shooting from the field. When it was over, Auriemma and Diggins exchanged an embrace.
The Huskies had the lead for the entire second half, although Notre Dame used a 9-2 run to cut UConn's lead to 61-55 with six minutes left. That's when the Huskies scored nine straight, including an impressive drive from Stewart after an offensive rebound and made it 70-55 with 4:14 left.
Stewart appeared to hurt her right shoulder after a timeout midway through the half. The Huskies had a 13-point lead until McBride hit a three and Stewart went tumbling to the floor. Trainer Rosemary Ragle massaged the shoulder during the ensuing timeout.
She returned quickly.
The Huskies were killing themselves with turnovers in the second half and led 50-43 before Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart hit consecutive threes to give UConn a 56-43 lead with 10:52 left.
UConn withstood an early run in the second half after the Irish cut the lead to seven. Stewart's three-point play made it 47-37 with 15:49 left.
The Huskies went sprinting into the locker room after closing the first half on a 14-3 run. They took a 39-29 halftime lead after trailing by a point with three minutes remaining.
Hartley made a three-pointer with 2:54 left to give Connecticut the lead at 28-26.
Kelly Faris scored four points in the run, including a layup at the halftime horn.
Stewart, who led the Huskies with 12 in the first half, also made a three-pointer.
UConn committed seven turnovers in the first eight minutes and trailed by two, despite Notre Dame's 2-for-21 shooting to start the game.
Later in the half, the Irish had a 16-14 lead, shooting just 18 percent.
Diggins was 0-for-6 from the floor, contributing to Notre Dame's 24 percent (9-38) from the floor.
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