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Irish women fall again in Big East title game

By Doug Feinberg
AP Basketball Writer / March 6, 2012
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HARTFORD, Conn.—Skylar Diggins knows Notre Dame will bounce back from another loss in the Big East title game to Connecticut.

After all, the Irish have a bigger prize in mind.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points and Bria Hartley added 18 to help No. 4 UConn beat the third-ranked Irish 63-54 on Tuesday night and win its fifth straight Big East tournament title.

"This team's not a team that hangs their head," said Diggins, who led the Irish with 16 points. "The biggest goal of them all is ahead of us. We're only guaranteed one game. This a great game going into the (NCAA) tournament. We'll learn from this game."

Senior teammate Natalie Novosel echoed the sentiment.

"It's going to be really important to forget this game and move on and learn from it," she said. "It was definitely one of our goals and we wanted to achieve it. We got knocked down but we're going to get back up. We're going to look forward and try to get the big one."

Notre Dame (30-3) was seeking its first Big East tournament title. The Irish, who won the outright regular-season title for the first time, have made the tournament championship game six times and lost each one to the Huskies (29-4).

UConn also ended a rare three-game losing streak to the Irish. Notre Dame beat the Huskies in the national semifinals last season, then swept the two regular-season meetings this season.

"It's hard to lose any game," said senior guard Tiffany Hayes, who didn't drop a game in her first two years at UConn. "To lose to one team three straight times doesn't sit well. With this team we just knew we were better than we have played the last couple of games. We were willing to fight till the end."

It's on to the NCAA tournament for the Irish and the Huskies, where they will both likely be No. 1 seeds.

"I think we have two of the best teams in America coming out of the conference," Auriemma said. "I don't think we take a backseat to anyone ever, I think tonight you saw why."

The Irish were trying to join an elite club by becoming the fourth team to beat Connecticut three times in the same season. Miami was the last to do it, 20 years ago. The Hurricanes also were the last team to knock off UConn in four straight meetings. No team has done that since the Huskies won their first national championship in 1995.

"It's tough to beat a team three times," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I don't think we have to do anything different. I don't think there was more pressure on us. I just think they've outplayed us."

It's the 18th tournament title for the Huskies and 19th straight year that they have won either the Big East regular season or tournament titles.

After the teams met last Monday night, UConn was left searching for answers with Notre Dame winning 72-59 on the Huskies' home floor. The Huskies found them in Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis, who was selected the tournament's most outstanding player.

UConn was trailing 36-33 early in the second half when the pair scored all 10 points during a 10-1 run. Mosqueda-Lewis had a floater and a jump shot. Hartley finished it off with the last six points, the final two coming after she stole the ball at midcourt and then made an acrobatic layup.

Notre Dame closed to 46-43 with 8:46 left on Kayla McBride's 3-pointer, but couldn't complete the comeback.

Mosqueda-Lewis and Hartley hit back-to-back baskets and UConn held Notre Dame without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes after Diggins' lay-in made it 50-45 with 7:05 left. Diggins finally ended the drought with 1:35 remaining, but UConn hit its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

The Huskies led 27-17 before Notre Dame closed the first half on a 13-4 burst. Kaila Turner's 3-pointer with a second left made it 31-30 at the break.

It's the first time all season that the Irish trailed a Big East opponent at the half.

Notre Dame kept the run going, scoring six of the first eight points of the second half to take a 36-33 lead on Devereaux Peters' layup. Then Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis took over.

"We allowed them to get some looks early on and they got some confidence," McGraw said of Hartley and Mosqueda-Lewis. "They were able to knock down some shots and get their confidence up and gained momentum."

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