The last time the UConn women faced Notre Dame it was in the Big East Tournament Championship. That afternoon freshman Stefanie Dolson scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and the Huskies won 73-64.
Sunday night, UConn and Notre Dame met again, this time in the NCAA Final Four. The difference: Dolson was in foul trouble early. She spent more time on the bench than on the floor and her absence served as a green light for the Fighting Irish to attack the paint.
And that's exactly what they did, beating UConn at their own game. For the second time this season the Huskies lost, and this one means they won't be defending their back-to-back national titles.
UConn's lack of depth finally caught up to them against Notre Dame, a team that was 0-3 versus the Huskies this season. Coach Geno Auriemma warned after the Sweet 16 victory over Georgetown that his team was "vulnerable." It seemed like a motivational ploy after UConn blew Duke out of the water, 75-40 in the next round, but Auriemma's words ultimately proved prophetic.
Midway through the second half with UConn trailing 41-40, Auriemma told ESPN's Rebecca Lobo that "We don't have a big enough presence inside [with Dolson on the bench] to keep [Notre Dame] from getting to the basket so we're going to have to find a way to make them into a perimeter team."
One problem: the Fighting Irish were almost as accurate from 15-20 feet as they were in the paint.
After the game, Auriemma offered this: "I thought [Notre Dame] did a smart thing, they really drove it at us really hard for most of the second half and they forced the officials to make a call one way or another. And we just couldn't recover from that. It seems like we lost our rhythm, we lost our way but all the credit to them, they made some incredible jump shots when they had to make them."
Using a small lineup for much of the night meant no inside presence for the Huskies and that had an effect on the outcome. "I thought they were the much more aggressive team in taking the ball to the basket and I think we settled for jump shots at times," Auriemma said before pausing to add, "They've been a great team all year and it's their turn."
UConn was up 32-26 at the break but Dolson was whistled for fouls No. 3 and No. 4 six minutes into the second half. Her bad fortune coincided with a 15-4 Notre Dame run that gave the Irish a 41-38 lead. The margin was as much as 12 points late in the game before Maya Moore went on an 8-0, trimming Notre Dame's lead to 61-57.
The Huskies got as close as three points before Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel took over. The Notre Dame guards converted big shots down the stretch -- both in the lane and behind the arc -- and made sure UConn didn't come back. The duo combined for 50 points. By comparison, five Huskies not named Maya combined for 27 points.
As for Moore, who scored 36 points in her finale, she ends her college career as one of the best players to ever suit up. Auriemma talked about her after the game.
"It's ironic that it started out like this as a freshman losing in the semifinals and then it ends the same way," he said. "But everything in between -- I don't know that you could wish for somebody better to be around for four years, or somebody you enjoy watching for four years, and everything that she means to college basketball. I don't think she needs to hang her head one bit about tonight."
A month ago, nobody would have believed that of the two UConn basketball teams, the men would be the ones to make the NCAA finals. Yet here we are.