DENVER – Notre Dame is back in the national championship thanks to Skylar Diggins’ steady leadership and Brittany Mallory’s clutch shooting.
Diggins scored 19 points, Mallory hit two big 3-pointers in overtime, and the Irish beat Connecticut, 83-75, on Sunday night.
The two hooked up for a game-turning play in overtime when Diggins stood her ground on a fastbreak, blocked the shot to prevent the Huskies from retaking the lead, then fed Mallory at the other end for her second important 3.
“That was game-saving. That was huge,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That would have turned it around if they made that lay-up. (Diggins) sprinted the floor, made that huge play. It gave us such a big momentum lift, and Britt hitting that 3 made it a huge play.”
Notre Dame (35-3) also beat the Huskies (33-5) in the semifinals last year, ending Maya Moore’s brilliant career and the Huskies’ bid for a third straight national championship. But the Irish stumbled 48 hours later, losing to Texas A&M in the title game in Indianapolis.
Unfinished business has been their mantra all season, and now they get a chance to take care of business Tuesday night against Baylor. The Lady Bears advanced with a 59-47 victory over Stanford.
Connecticut and Notre Dame were tied at 67 after regulation. UConn closed with an 8-2 run that was fueled by a series of hustle plays from Kelly Faris, who had a steal and a basket and four free throws in the final 90 seconds.
The Huskies, who were led by Stefanie Dolson’s 20 points despite foul trouble, stretched their run to 11-2 when Bria Hartley opened the extra period with a 3-pointer.
The Huskies had the ball again after a missed free throw but Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis fired up an off-target 3-pointer early in the shot clock and UConn never recovered.
Diggins’ best play came on defense. With Notre Dame clinging to a 73-72 lead, the Huskies had a 2-on-1 fastbreak but Diggins held fast and blocked Hartley’s layup attempt, and the Irish scored the next eight points to secure the victory.
“In overtime we didn’t have enough,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We took a chance on making it difficult, but Brittany Mallory made two huge shots. That’s who we wanted to take the shots, and, God bless her, she made them.”
Mallory was 0-for-4 from behind the arc in regulation.
“It was a big sigh of relief when that first one went in,” she said.
Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 20 points, including her follow-up hook shot with 4.6 seconds left in regulation.
Baylor 59, Stanford 47: One win from perfection.
Brittney Griner was constantly hounded and double-teamed, scoring only one basket in the second half and finishing with 13 points. So the Baylor supporting cast carried the unbeaten Bears to the national title game.
Baylor (39-0) is one victory from becoming the seventh team to finish undefeated and has a chance to be the first squad in NCAA history to win 40 games in a season.
Stanford (35-2) fell short in the Final Four for the fifth straight season, ending its school-record 32-game winning streak.
The Cardinal refused to let the 6-foot-8 Griner beat them, collapsing on her inside. The strategy worked for the first 20 minutes before the other Bears started making shots.
Trailing 31-29 early in the second half, the Lady Bears went on an 11-1 run keyed by Jordan Madden. The junior guard had an acrobatic three-point play and then a layup that made it 40-32. Griner followed with her only basket of the half, hitting a tough baseline turnaround that capped the burst.
Stanford could only get within six the rest of the game despite Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s team-high 22 points and nine rebounds.