NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis each scored 14 points to help Connecticut move closer to knocking off Notre Dame in the first NCAA championship showdown between undefeated teams as the Huskies took a 45-38 halftime lead Tuesday night.
With both Notre Dame (37-0) and the Huskies (39-0) unbeaten, making it the first title game – men’s or women’s – featuring undefeated teams. Connecticut came in looking to become the first women’s program with nine national championships while finishing off the fifth perfect season in school history.
The Huskies trailed only briefly at 8-6 after Notre Dame scored six quick points, capped by a layup by Kayla McBride. Then the Irish went cold just as Connecticut kicked it into another gear, scoring the next 16 points.
Senior center Stefanie Dolson scored on a layup to put the Huskies ahead to stay at 10-8 with 14:54, and Stewart blocked a layup by Markisha Wright during the run. Stewart’s layup put the Huskies up 22-8 with 11:02 left.
By that point, the Huskies had hit 10 of their first 15 shots for a sizzling start – unlike the sluggish starts they had in their previous three tournament games.
But Notre Dame, which has won seven of the past nine between the teams, started hitting from long range.
McBride finished with 13 points in the half, Jewel Loyd added 11 and Michaela Mabrey 10 as the trio combined to hit five 3-pointers. Loyd’s 3 with 27.8 seconds left pulled Notre Dame as close as the Irish had been since the opening minutes at 43-38. That prompted UConn coach Geno Auriemma to take a timeout, and Mosqueda-Lewis scored on a putback for the halftime lead.
Dolson was also in double-figures in the half with 10 points.
Notre Dame came to Nashville looking for the Irish’ first national title since 2001, and they certainly are comfortable on this stage as the fifth team in NCAA tournament history to reach the national title game three times in four years.
Adding to the drama of the game was the programs simply do not like each other.
Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw has more wins (11) than any other coach against UConn and Auriemma since 2000-01, and the Irish have won three of four between these teams last season.
But UConn won the last game between these programs in the national semifinal a year ago, and the Huskies have not lost since Notre Dame beat them in the Big East tournament championship last season in a contest that went three overtimes. They didn’t play this season, Notre Dame moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference while UConn now is in the new American Athletic Conference.
This was the fourth straight NCAA tournament in which these teams have met and the first in the title game.
The Irish played without senior forward Natalie Achonwa, who tore her left ACL last weekend. But UConn only had a 20-18 edge on the boards at the break.