Notre Dame may have been 2-0 against UConn this year, but they're 0-5 in Big East championship games, all losses to -- you guessed it -- the Huskies. So after taking it to UConn twice during the regular season, the Fighting Irish looked outmatched Tuesday night at the XL Center. And now, following a 63-54 defeat, they're 0-6.
For UConn, the win snaps a three-game losing streak to Notre Dame dating back to last year's Final Four. More than that, it gives coach Geno Auriemma hope that this team can overcome adversity, something that he had questioned at various points in recent months and as recently as February 28, the last time these two teams met.
"I don't even care about the Big East tournament, at this point," he said after the 72-59 loss in the regular-season finale. "I really don't. I could care less what happens. I don't care who wins it. If it's us, great. If it's Notre Dame, great. I don't care. We're probably not good enough to win it, so it doesn't matter to me who does."
No one believed Auriemma, of course. He's all about motivating his players and he'll happily take that message to the media if he thinks it will make a difference. Since that loss, the Huskies have taken it to St. John's and now Notre Dame, two teams responsible for giving the Huskies back-to-back home losses for the first time since 1993. So, yeah, they had something to prove -- and they did.
As for how they did it: the Huskies came out firing, playing solid defense and hitting open shots. And as has often happened this season, freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis provided her zone-busting 3-point skills, helping to get Notre Dame out of their zone defense and opening things up for her teammates.
"I thought we were aggressive to start the game," Auriemma said afterwards. "Defensively, for the third straight night, we played incredibly hard, and we were really smart tonight defensively -- (Notre Dame) is an impossible team to defend. But I thought the key was when we needed a big shot we got one."
"I just thought it was one of those wins you look for at this time of the year to kind of get you going for the NCAA Tournament. It was a really gutty win for our team."
UConn built a 10-point lead midway through the first half but the Fighting Irish aren't the conference's top seed for nothing. They fought back to trail by just one at the half, 31-30. Auriemma admitted that he was concerned that his team had lost their edge.
The final 20 minutes didn't assuage those worries; Notre Dame took a three-point lead but then KML made a couple big shots, Bria Hartley took over from there, and after an 8-1 run, UConn led 43-37 with 11:59 to go.
But unlike their previous losses this season, the Huskies didn't wilt down the stretch; they took it right to Notre Dame and not just on offense. The defense held Notre Dame's three best players -- Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters -- to 28 points on 11 of 39 shooting.
Midway during the second half, ESPN overheard Auriemma imploring his team to continue to play hard. "We are better than them," he said, "we are not going to let them win this."
Recent history didn't agree with Auriemma but the man doesn't have seven national titles and 800 wins by accident. He knows what he's talking about. And now, for the 18th year in a row, the Huskies are either regular season or conference tournament champs.
"I can't be prouder of our team and the way we played," he said on the court afterwards. "I haven't been this happy in a long time."