STORRS, Conn. – Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame just seem to have Connecticut’s number.
The Irish have turned one of the best rivalries in women’s basketball into a one-sided affair lately, winning five of the past six meetings.
The senior All-American scored 19 points hitting big shot after big shot in the second half to lift fifth-ranked Notre Dame to a 73-72 victory over the top-ranked Huskies on Saturday.
This was the latest victory for the Irish (12-1, 1-0 Big East), who also ended UConn’s season the past two years by beating the Huskies in past two Final Fours.
“I think when we play them, there is a lot on the line, whether it is a Big East Championship or them being ranked higher than us or in the Final Four,” Diggins said. “This is good for us.”
The last team to beat UConn five out of six times was Miami in the early 1990s – before UConn started winning national championships.
The Irish were expected to be down this season with three starters graduated. It didn’t matter with Diggins still on the team.
With UConn poised to pull away in the second half, Diggins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to keep her team in the game.
Later with the shot clock about to run out, Diggins hit a leaner from the wing.
Finally, with the Irish down by one with 49 seconds left, she got fouled on a drive and calmly sank both free throws.
It would be the last points of the game.
“I think Skylar has changed things for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She believed we can win and has the confidence and that is contagious.”
The Huskies (12-1, 0-1) had a few chances to pull out the win in the final 30 seconds, but in front of a sellout crowd of 10,127, they fell short.
Breanna Stewart had her shot blocked in the lane. The Huskies maintained possession and then after a timeout, Stewart missed a jumper from the top of the key. Kelly Faris grabbed the rebound giving UConn one more chance, but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis caught the ball in the corner and her wide-open 3 fell off the rim.
The Irish grabbed the loose ball and Diggins ran out the clock.
“How many times can we put up our defense,” McGraw said. “I thought about our football team getting that goal-line stand (against Stanford) three times in a row; if they can do it, we can do it.”
The Irish women were headed down South after the game to get ready for Tuesday’s contest against South Florida. Notre Dame was going to first spend a day in Orlando.
McGraw laughed at the thought that her team would head to Disney World after beating the No. 1 team in the country. She put the victory in perspective.
“It’s great to win when they are ranked No. 1,” she said. “It’s great for our team, but it’s still January 5. We’re just trying to get better.”