The clock said 5:37 remained, plenty of time. But Skylar Diggins, her Notre Dame teammates and the Constant Center crowd knew otherwise.
Truth be told, so did Duke.
They knew Diggins had just iced Tuesday's NCAA Norfolk Regional final. They knew the Fighting Irish were headed to a third consecutive Final Four, the Blue Devils to a fourth straight Elite Eight defeat.
"That's right," Diggins yelped to fans from midcourt after her layup, despite considerable defensive contact from Chloe Wells, again had extended the Irish lead to double figures.
Right, indeed. For all of Duke's resolve and Notre Dame's breakdowns, the Irish had too much offense, too much Diggins in this 87-76 victory.
"I hold Notre Dame on such a high pedestal. … I know everybody in the city of South Bend (Ind.) is excited," Diggins said of another Final Four. "The experience has been great."
For the second time in three days here, Notre Dame's attack bordered on flawless after intermission. The Irish (35-1) shot 62.1 percent in the second half, scored 56 points and assisted on 16 of their 18 field goals, much as they did in Sunday's regional semifinal rout of Kansas.
On the day she was named first-team All-American by the Associated Press, Diggins again was the maestro. She had game-highs of 24 points, nine assists and five steals, and, just for kicks, grabbed five rebounds as well.
"I'm excited for her career beyond (college)," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of Diggins.
A serious offensive funk — 11 consecutive misses combined with three turnovers — sentenced Notre Dame to a 26-17 first-half deficit. The Blue Devils (33-3) scored on their final five possessions of the half, punctuated by Wells' 3-pointer in the waning seconds to grab a 37-31 intermission edge.
"I thought in the first half they outworked us," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.
The 6-point halftime deficit matched the Irish's largest of the season.
How would the region's top seed respond? How would Diggins, a senior searching for a championship, respond after spending eight minutes on the bench with two fouls?
Foul trouble certainly was foreign to her. This was her 279th career game at Notre Dame and never had she been disqualified. Moreover, she averages less than two fouls per game.
"I was happy with the way my team responded to adversity," Diggins said.
To say the least, Notre Dame and UConn have a history.
The teams have clashed three times this season, the Irish winning them all, by a combined 12 points. Notre Dame prevailed by one on the road, by nine at home in triple-overtime and by two in the Big East tournament final in Hartford, Conn.
This the Irish managed despite three sub-par shooting games from Diggins: 4-of-15, 11-of-31 and 5-of-15. In those contests, Diggins played 133 of a possible 135 minutes.
Most remarkable, this is the third consecutive season and the fourth time overall that Notre Dame and UConn have collided in a Final Four semifinal.
The Irish defeated the Huskies in 2001 en route to the national championship. They repeated those conquests in 2011 and '12, only to lose subsequent title games to Texas A&M and Baylor.
The two constants over those years: coaches Geno Auriemma and McGraw.
Then-Notre Dame athletic director Gene Corrigan hired McGraw from Lehigh in 1987, and when the Irish joined the Big East for the 1995-96 season, Auriemma's Huskies were reigning national champions and tournament regulars.
In its second Big East season. Notre Dame reached its first Final Four, but the Irish lost 11 consecutive games to UConn before finally breaking through in 2001, at home during the regular season and at the Final Four.
As Notre Dame moves from the Big East to the ACC next season, it trades that rivalry for annual games against national contenders such as Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. The latter two have won a national title, and the Blue Devils have Final Four pedigree.
But none approaches UConn.
Notre Dame-Connecticut Round 4?
"We're enjoying the moment right now," Diggins said. "We'll talk about that later."
David Teel can be reached
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