We've seen this movie before, the one where UConn is on the wrong end of a heart-breaking loss at the hands of archival Notre Dame. It happened again Tuesday, this time in the conference championship, giving the Fighting Irish another first: a Big East title in their last-ever conference game.
This time, it happened on a last-second layup courtesy of Natalie Achonwa that gave Notre Dame a 61-59 lead. That proved to be the difference, and now the Huskies head to the NCAA Tournament with four losses, three thanks to the Fighting Irish.
UConn didn't help themselves though; unlike their last matchup that went to triple overtime and had the Huskies leading by six at the break, Notre Dame jumped out to a 35-26 lead. But a furious second-half comeback tied the score with a few ticks on the clock. Then Achonwa happened. Ball game. Again.
"What can I say, I feel really bad for these guys," coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards, via the Associated Press. "They played an amazing second half and we put ourselves in a big hole in the first half. They deserved to win because they made one more play at the end than we did."
This post-game speech has become old hat for Auriemma, whose team has now lost seven of eight to Notre Dame. The loss also kept the Huskies from their third-straight conference title. But if turnovers were the problem the last time these two teams got together, Tuesday it was UConn's inability to buy a basket from behind the arc. They were 0-5 (four misses by Breanna Stewart, the other by Kelly Faris), and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the team's best three-point shooter, didn't have an attempt.
"For us to go 0-for, I never think we're going to do that," Auriemma said. "I think we'll make our share and we always do."
Stefanie Dolson led the Huskies with 18 points and 16 rebounds but the team was again unable to stop Kayla McBride, who finished with 23 points. Skylar Diggins was held to just six points, but her decisive steal with the score tied and eight seconds on the clock that set up the Achonwa layup proved to be the difference.
"I've had a lot of big wins in my years here -- wins against UConn to go to national championship games, it definitely is up there," Diggins said. "It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program."
And now the Huskies are left in the familiar position of trying to pick up the pieces, this time ahead of the NCAAs.
"At this point this program is all about how you respond and that's what coach teaches us how to do," Faris said. "We haven't responded the way we need to, the way the program is used to. That's why we are sitting where we're at right now. This is our last chance right now to respond in the right way. This is our last opportunity to step up and make something of it."