Well that was the most fun I've had watching basketball in a long, LONG time. I'm kinda teary eyed. I'm comfortable enough in my manhood to say that on the internet.
These teams were playing each other for the 8th time in 14 months and the two teams sure looked the part. They knew what their opponent wanted to do and reacted in a manner which only teams that were intimate with each other would know. Both teams had control of the game at different parts but in the end, the team with the better player and more experience pulled out the win in overtime and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will advance to its second straight (and third overall) national championship game.
More on the thrilling 83-75 win after the jump.
The Huskies jumped on the Lady Irish early by extending pressure and forcing turnovers and tough shots. Powered by Stefanie Dolson's 12 points and 6 rebounds in the first half, the Huskies took advantage of ND's pressure by slipping into backdoor cuts and easy buckets. UConn maintained a 5-8 point lead for most of the first half before ND's Kayla McBride hit a buzzer beater to bring the Irish within 3 going into the tunnels with a halftime score of 36-33.
Whatever Muffet McGraw told the ladies at halftime must have worked as ND jumped with a 10-3 run to open the half and take the 4 point lead which they maintained for most of the second half before a minor collapse in the last 1:20 got UConn back into the game and allowed the Huskies to retake the lead with 11.6 seconds left to play. In the next sequence Skylar Diggins dribbled down the court and released a soft floater that rimmed out and fell into Natalie Novosel's hands. Novosel then converted a reverse lay up to tie the game at 67-67 with 4.5 seconds left.
The overtime session opened with a Bria Hartley 3 which gave the Huskies the lead, but the next two scores were 3's from ND's two guards Skylar Diggins and Brittany Mallory. Mallory, who is one of two graduate students (Devereaux Peters is the other) in the starting line up, then hit another 3 just 30 seconds later to give the Irish a 76-72 lead. In the next defensive sequence Mallory stole the ball from Kelly Faris and was fouled in the same play and converted a free throw to essentially seal the win for Notre Dame.
If the Elite 8 game showed why Skylar Diggins was the best point guard in the country, this Final 4 game showed why Brittany Mallory was considered the rock that the team relied on. In addition to 11 points (7 of which came in OT), Mallory 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals while bringing the ball up for most of the second half and overtime because of the relentless pressure on Diggins. Mallory seemed to be making the right play on every possession - offense and defense - and provided leadership for her team throughout the night.
All six players - Diggins, McBride, Mallory, Peters, Novosel, and Natalie Achonwa - dug deep to get this victory as the fast pace, combined with the overtime, frustrating officiating and Denver altitude forced the Lady Irish to give every ounce of their body to get this win. They were warriors and deserved to win this game more than any other team (that I've ever seen) deserved anything. Now they have some unfinished business to take care of as they try to win the program's second national championship.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the winner of the Baylor/Stanford game on Tuesday night. Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 pm on ESPN.