SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Skylar Diggins found another way to beat Connecticut – maybe the toughest way yet.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish trailed by six in the first overtime Monday night, then five in the second overtime before finally beating the third-ranked Huskies 96-87 in three overtimes to win the Big East regular-season title outright for a second straight year.
“We were done in regulation and the first and second overtimes. We just kept clawing away and got them to miss some free throws,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “What a battle.”
The Fighting Irish (28-1, 16-0) went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96 and became the first team to win six of seven games against Connecticut (27-3, 14-2) in more than two decades. Diggins finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kayla McBride added a career-high 26 points before fouling out.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was pleased with his team’s effort, but disappointed the Huskies couldn’t come up with a big play when they needed one.
“We couldn’t finish it off,” he said. “Every opportunity we had to put it away we let it slip away from us.”
The Irish took their first lead in overtime when Kaila Turner hit a free throw 18 seconds into the third overtime.
After Kelly Faris answered with a bank shot for the Huskies to regain the lead, the Irish took over.
Ariel Braker started it with a free throw, then Jewell Loyd muscled in a basket inside and nearly a minute later added a pair of free throws to give the Irish an 87-83 lead. Diggins then stole the ball from Breanna Stewart and scored on a fastbreak layup, then Braker, Diggins and Natalie Achonwa each made two free throws to put away the game.
The Irish managed to win despite going just 1 of 12 from 3-point range and being outshot 46 to 39 percent, but the Irish forced 35 turnovers. Achonwa added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Irish.
The Huskies missed three free throws in the first overtime, including one by Morgan Tuck that would have given the Huskies a four-point lead with 13 seconds left.
McBride then hit Notre Dame’s only 3-pointer with 8 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force the second OT.