1:56 PM EDT, April 2, 2013
Truth is, women's basketball needed this. The Big East certainly needed it.
They needed a game to feel good about between national powers, archrivals, conference antagonists who pulsed and punched from start to finish.
They got it.
They needed excitement, suspense, a result that went undecided until the final bleep of the clock. What they didn't need was UConn-Stanford.
They needed credibility Saturday on CBS, the network of Cronkite, as far from ESPNU in terms of audience impact as Pluto is to Earth. This was showtime for women's basketball.
And showtime it was. UConn's hold on No. 1 is over after just one week.
Notre Dame All-American Skylar Diggins, in the midst of a 4 of 15 night, scored the last two of her 19 points at the free-throw line with 49 seconds to play to give the No. 5 Irish a 73-72 victory at sold-out Gampel Pavilion.
The last gasp was a three-point shot by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with three seconds to play from the right side.
"We got a great shot at the end of the game," coach Geno Auriemma said. "It would have upset me if someone we didn't want to take it ended up taking it. We came out of a timeout and got the shot we wanted."
It missed and Notre Dame dribbled out the clock.
"I took it. I missed it," Mosqueda-Lewis said. She came into the game shooting 52.6 percent from three.
"We thought about our football team putting up a goal line stand," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We thought, 'If they could do it, we can do it.' "
Kayla McBride led the Irish (12-1, 1-0) with 21 points. Freshman Michaela Mabrey had 11. Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa had 10 each.
Stefanie Dolson and Mosqueda-Lewis had 17 for UConn (12-1, 0-1), which just became No. 1 a week ago with a win over Stanford. Kelly Faris added 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
"I take responsibility for this loss," Faris said. "I don't just say that because it sounds good. As a leader on this team, I am supposed to set the tone. And I didn't do it defensively, which is usually expected of me. McBride got any shot she wanted and she made just about all of them [10 of 21]."
The Irish have now won five of the past six games played against UConn since its national semifinal win over the Huskies in 2011.
Diggins' free throw with 7:17 to play tied the score at 63, and the game swayed like a branch in the wind down the stretch.
With 3:42 to play, Mosqueda-Lewis, by then saddled with four fouls and a sore right ankle, scored under the basket and was fouled to give UConn a 70-68 lead on her three-point play.
Diggins put Notre Dame up for good after she was fouled by Bria Hartley trying to score. Hartley, who played only seven minutes at Oregon on Dec. 31, had just nine points in 39 minutes Saturday.
After a few more hectic moments, and two misses from Breanna Stewart, UConn took possession with 21.1 seconds to play. And the final stage played out.
"I thought it was a battle until the end," Diggins said. "And it came down to 20 seconds of defense, just like we practice it."
On Friday, Auriemma, a man of many words, picked the right one when asked if he expected this to play out like last Saturday's monstrosity in Palo Alto, when No. 2 UConn held No. 1 Stanford to 35 points.
"That was an anomaly," Auriemma said.
He was correct. Everything Stanford wasn't, Notre Dame was. The No. 5 Fighting Irish, deep and athletic, took it to UConn in a way the Cardinal never approached. They pressured UConn, essentially taking the free out of its freewheeling offense.
The Irish pushed and prodded, dared UConn to do something about it. They irritated Dolson, bothered the Huskies' shooters outside and opened a 29-20 lead against a team that hadn't trailed by more than two in its first 12 games.
Notre Dame's defense held UConn to 14 first-half field goals and 4 of 15 from three. It dismantled Stewart, turned the highly touted freshman into a spectator with zero first-half points in 10 minutes. She ended with 10 points, shooting 5 of 17 in 22 minutes. But she had nine rebounds and six blocks.
"This definitely opens our eyes," Stewart said.
It's not that UConn wasn't responsive. The Irish shot only 38.2 percent in the first half, and if not for McBride, the indefatigable junior, the Huskies might have been better off. But she scored 11 in the first half with muscle and will.
With 8:20 to play in the first half, the game was tied at 20. Then the Irish rolled off nine straight, including a three by Mabrey that was accompanied by a foul under the basket on Morgan Tuck that sent Achonwa to the foul line for one more point.
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