Irish oust Huskies in OT thriller
Denver - Painful outcomes produce abundant blame assessment. There will be no shortage in the wake of the season's end Sunday night.
But at the risk of oversimplification, it was no more complicated than this: It became a game between Notre Dame's veterans against UConn's freshmen and sophomores.
Seniors are usually the safer bet.
And so it was in the Final Four at the rocking Pepsi Center. Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel (senior) tied the game with 4.6 seconds in regulation. Brittany Mallory (senior) made two killer threes in overtime. The Irish ended UConn's season, 83-75.
"A lot of teams that have been here before find out that you're not going to come here and (have) your freshmen and sophomores necessarily win the national championship for you," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was very difficult for (veterans) Kelly (Faris), Caroline (Doty) and Tiffany (Hayes). They struggled a lot. … I'm really proud of our freshmen and sophomores. They learned a lot. This will be good for them."
The Huskies (33-5) managed to hang around in a game where a six-point deficit felt twice as dire at times. In spite of trailing 65-59 with 2:52 remaining, they fought to tie the game at 65, thanks mostly to Faris' thievery.
UConn had possession with 20 seconds remaining in a tie game. Bria Hartley, so good all night (18 points), turned it over during a frantic exchange, giving the Irish what most in the crowd of 19,028 thought was a chance at the final shot.
Except that Faris stole the ball again, as she had two possessions earlier, with UConn trailing. Faris was fouled on the way to the basket with 11 seconds left. Faris nearly made a layup that would have been a three-point play.
Faris, nonetheless, made both free throws. UConn 67, Notre Dame 65.
The Huskies were a defensive stop away from the national championship game.
"I made a huge mistake," Auriemma said. "I took Kiah Stokes out of the game. We went with five guards so that we could switch all their screens (on the perimeter). And in the end a defensive rebound would have won us the game."
Indeed, Skylar Diggins missed a layup with six seconds left. But Novosel converted a layup that forced overtime.
Hartley gave UConn a 70-67 lead in overtime.
But Mallory's first three-pointer of overtime gave Notre Dame a 73-70 lead. At 73-72, Diggins turned it over, giving UConn a 2-on-1 break: Hayes and Hartley against Diggins. Yet instead of a layup and a one-point lead, Diggins deflected Hayes' pass that led to Mallory's next three.
UConn committed 21 ghastly turnovers.
"We had the game won and we have it back to them," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We had to make some spectacular plays."
Novosel led Notre Dame with 20 points. Diggins had 19, while senior Deveraux Peters had 17 with 12 rebounds. Mallory finished with 11.
Stefanie Dolson, despite foul trouble, kept UConn afloat most of the game. She was whistled for her fourth foul with 17:39 left and the game tied at 39. She returned with UConn trailing 54-49. Dolson had 20 points.
"I thought Stef played great," Auriemma said.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 13 points for UConn and Faris and Hayes had 10 apiece. Faris, Hayes and Doty finished a combined 7-for-19 from the field with nine turnovers.
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