Notre Dame Shows Its Tough Side, And UConn Doesn't

STORRS — If Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hadn't missed the wide-open three with six seconds left, we're not having this conversation.

If the woman who coach Geno Auriemma called the best three-point shooter in the country had swished it and UConn had won by two, chances are we're not talking about how Notre Dame is tougher-minded than the Huskies and we're not talking about how the most talented freshman in all the land — Breanna Stewart — played liked most any freshman in all the land.

But KML missed and when asked what her mind-set was at that moment, she answered, "Make the shot."

If only it was all that simple, if only emotions flat-line like that, Mosqueda-Lewis wouldn't have been wiping the tears away from her face and Skylar Diggins wouldn't have been strutting around, screaming at the Gampel Pavilion crowd Saturday after the Irish's 73-72 victory over the No. 1 Huskies.

"I think a lot of people are afraid of the name on the front of the jersey," Diggins said of UConn after Notre Dame had beaten the Huskies for the fifth time in six meetings. "We aren't anymore."

"I think we did a good job of showing that and being tough ... biggest stage, one of the best crowds in the nation, No. 1 team in the nation, playing on [CBS], this is what it's all about."

So now Stanford has knocked off No. 1 Baylor, and UConn has knocked off No. 1 Stanford and Notre Dame has knocked off No. 1 UConn after the Irish lost to Baylor. Who's No. 1?

"That's for you guys to vote on," Diggins said.

Diggins has the kind of smile that can light up a press conference and the kind of bad-ass attitude that has gotten her nearly 300,000 Twitter followers. Kayla McBride, who finished with 21 points, was probably the best player on the floor on this day, but there's no doubt that so much of the resolve, tenacity, and does an old man dare use the word? — swagger — flows from Diggins.

Last year, with seniors like Natalie Novosel, Deveareaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, if Notre Dame had come into Gampel and pulled out a game like this one, followers of women's college basketball would have nodded their heads sagely and spoken of the Irish's maturity, poise and toughness. Well, they're gone and there were the Irish still playing hard as nails when it mattered most Saturday.

Afterward, coach Muffet McGraw did everything but scream, "We've got Diggins and you don't!"

"When you have a player like Skylar on your team, you don't need to do a whole lot," McGraw said. "She does it all. She lays the groundwork. She sets the tone. Right from the summer on when the freshmen arrived, she let them know this is how we do it."

"She has been such a great leader. They hang on every word she says. They just want to please her. She brings the level of competition in practice way up. They have to respond to it. She's not afraid to get on them. With Kayla McBride and Natalie Achowna, we have a little bit of a core. But, really, it's almost all Skylar."

Diggins shot 4 of 15 from the floor, but she pushes, pushes and gets calls like an NBA star. The rest of the Irish had 12 foul shots. UConn had 14. Diggins alone hit nine of 12 free throws to finish with 19 points. And it was her free throw with 49 seconds left after her drive to the hoop that provided the winning point. Afterward, Auriemma would also point to two three-pointers in a row that Diggins hit early in the second half when he felt that UConn was taking over the game.

"Skylar has changed things for us and our mind-set," McGraw said. "She believes she can win. She has the confidence that is contagious."

Look, in a game like this, you can push the story line in a lot of different directions. One shot, one play can make all the difference. Michaela Mabrey hit a three in the second half that looked awfully close to her having her foot on the line. The officials wouldn't even review it. They should have, because those who looked at it afterward on video thought it was painfully close. One point only meant everything.

And what about the final 30 seconds? When was the last time a UConn team had three chances to win it on the offensive end and didn't?

"A play here and a play there ends up determining the game," Auriemma said.

Stewart had a shot blocked by Ariel Braker and UConn was fortunate the possession arrow was in its favor. Stewart then missed another shot with 25 seconds left and off a mad tumble, Kelly Faris was able to grab ball and call a timeout. Ultimately, KML missed the open three.

"How many times can we put up our defense?" McGraw said. "So we thought about our football team getting that goal-line stand three times in a row [against USC.] We said if they can do it we can do it."

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