Score: No. 2 Notre Dame 61, No. 3 UConn 59
Stars: Notre Dame: Kayla McBride 23 Pts, 4 Reb, 2 Ast (Tournament's Most Outstanding Player). Skylar Diggins 12 Pts, 6 Ast, 5 Stl. UConn:Stefanie Dolson 18 Pts, 14 Reb, 3 Ast. Breanna Stewart 16 Pts, 2 Reb, 1 Blk.
One word, three syllables, and it has haunted UConn's nightmares for three years.
With a tied score and possession on the sideline with 18 seconds to play, the Huskies inbounded with a chance at the last shot – one last shot at Notre Dame as a conference foe.
But that annoying word killed them.
An errant pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis put the ball in Skylar Diggins' hands. Diggins was hacked multiple times, but found Natalie Achonwa wide open under the hoop, and the senior from Canada dropped the ball into the net with 1.1 seconds to go, ensuring Notre Dame's first and last Big East championship.
"It was an unbelievable game...just amazing," Coach Muffet McGraw said.
Notre Dame got off to a strong start, and took a nine-point lead into the half. But the Huskies and the Hartford crowd were not ready to give up.
UConn outscored Notre Dame 33-26 in the second half, due in large part to the play of forwards Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart. Stewart, considered to be the No. 1 freshman in the country entering the season, continued her strong tournament, scoring 16 points and forcing Achonwa to deal with two challenging post presences as opposed to just Dolson.
"I thought Stewart played really well," McGraw said. "She had a great game, maybe the best I've seen her play this year."
It was back and forth for the entire second half, all the way down to the final play. When Mosqueda-Lewis' pass went astray, Diggins was able to find get through the traffic and find Achonwa for the win.
"That was the fastest I've ever seen Natalie Achonwa run down a court to get the ball," Diggins said. "I kind of had to dribble through – I was trying to draw a foul, but they let it go. I'm glad they let it go. Natalie was just there – Jewell [Loyd] was on the other side – I saw Ace and I just threw it to her and she made it."
Once again, Kayla McBride played the role of UConn killer, scoring 23 points en route to winning the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
"I like playing in big games," McBride said. "I think I couldn't do it without my teammates passing me the ball, setting good screens, things like that, so it was a great team win."
Diggins has defeated UConn plenty of times in her career, but going into tonight was 0-2 against them in the Big East Championship Game, a demon she is glad to be rid of.
"It's great for our program," Diggins said. "I'm excited about the team going into the tournament with the way that our bench stepped up, the way Kayla McBride put the team on her back, the way Jewell played, just everybody playing through adversity. Ace had four fouls. She could have put her head down and been out of it. But she stayed in and she came back in and made the game-winning shot. this means a lot for our team. I think this is our coming of age. We fought through adversity. It's just great. It's great for our program and for Coach McGraw."