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Unbeatens UConn and Notre Dame to meet in epic title game

By Ned Griffen

Publication: The Day

Published April 07. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 07. 2014 7:12PM
John Bazemore/AP Photo
UConn's Bria Hartley celebrates after knocking down a shot during the second half of the Huskies' 75-56 victory over Stanford in the national semifinals Sunday night in Nashville, Tenn. UConn will play rival Notre Dame for the national championship Tuesday night.

Nashville, Tenn. - The UConn Huskies are headed to the national championship, but jeez, did they ever make it hard on themselves for a long spell.

Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 18 points as UConn shook off a tepid first half to beat Stanford on Sunday night, 75-56, in the national semifinals before 17,548 at the Bridgestone Arena.

And so (most of) women's basketball has gotten the grudge match it so dearly wanted - UConn vs. Notre Dame in Tuesday's national championship game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).

It's unbeaten vs. unbeaten (the first in women's basketball history). Ellen Ripley vs. Katniss Everdeen. Athena vs. Hera.

"I think both teams respect how hard each other has worked all year," UConn's Stefanie Dolson said. "But I can't say they're our favorite."

The Huskies (39-0) missed 15 of their first 20 shots. Believe it or not, they trailed, 22-16, with over five minutes left in the first half.

But UConn closed that half strong, going on a 12-0 run, and never trailed again.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Huskies. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who missed all four of her first-half shots finished with 15 points.

"We were a little scattered," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We weren't really sure where we wanted to get our shots from. We weren't really attacking them as much as we wanted to in the beginning. It was kind of tough for us to get the shots we wanted.

"Luckily for us, defensively, we were playing great."

Bria Hartley had 13 points, five rebounds for four assists for the Huskies, Stefanie Dolson added 10 points and seven rebounds and Moriah Jefferson scored 10.

Amber Orrange scored a team-high 16 points for the Cardinal (33-4).

Senior Chiney Ogwumike finished her outstanding career with 15 points and 10 rebounds and is expected to be the top pick in next Monday's WNBA Draft at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Connecticut Sun own the rights to the first pick.

The Huskies started fast and opened with four straight points with baskets by Hartley and Jefferson less than a minute into the game.

What followed was a numbing shooting malaise by UConn. It missed 12 of its next 15 shots and had Auriemma seething on the sidelines.

It trailed, 22-16, with over five minutes left in the first half.

But the Huskies finally came to, starting with Kiah Stokes making the first of two free throws. She followed with a steal that Bria Hartley turned into a 3-pointer, shaving the deficit to 22-20.

Stefanie Dolson tied the game with a jumper and Stewart gave UConn the lead the lead with a forward hook.

Stokes kept the Huskies' run going with a layup, and Stewart turned a steal into a layup to put UConn ahead, 28-22, with 1:58 left in the first half.

The run took just a little over three minutes.

"We looked to get it in the lane more," Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We looked to kind of get more movement and try to find some continuity."

UConn continued to pull ahead in the second half as Mosqueda-Lewis heated up. She scored nine during a 14-0 run. She culminated the sprint with a 3-pointer to give the Huskies a 44-27 lead with over 14 minutes left.

Stanford tried to creep back and closed to within 11.

Mosqueda-Lewis answered with a contested jumper, Stokes added a jumper and Stewart two free throws to push UConn back ahead, 55-38, with over nine minutes left.

n.griffen@theday.com

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