Game of the Week: Notre Dame vs. Connecticut, Sunday, 8 p.m.
The Irish chased Connecticut all season for the number one spot in the Big East, but ended up tied for No. 2.
With an impending matchup between these two programs in the Final Four, the crowning of the true Big East champ is approaching.
The Huskies beat Notre Dame twice in the regular season and in the championship game of the Big East Championship tournament, but the Irish are now the only thing standing between Connecticut and a third straight trip to the NCAA title game.
Notre Dame came close to knocking off the Huskies back on Jan. 8 in a 79-76 loss, but got blown out on Feb. 19 78-57. The Irish will be looking to reach the national title game for the second time in their history.
Player of the Week: Skylar Diggins,sophomore guard, Notre Dame
The sophomore guard struggled against sixth-seeded Oklahoma in the Sweet 16, scoring just six points and turning the ball over six times.
Diggins did, however, pick up 12 assists to help her team to a 78-53 win.
In the Elite Eight, Diggins reprised her leadership role, leading all scorers with 24 points and snagging four steals to give the Irish their first win ever over first-seeded Tennessee in a 73-59 upset.
Road to the Final Four
The Huskies have been a national championship favorite since day one, and their presence in the Final Four was highly expected.
Senior forward Maya Moore is probably the biggest reason for that as she showed in Connecticut’s latest wins over Georgetown and Duke. Things were a little tighter than expected against the fifth-seeded Hoyas in the Sweet 16, as the Huskies found themselves down 53-46 with 9:36 left to play.
Moore went on to score 10 of her teams last 22 points to finish with 23 points and 14 rebounds in a 68-63 comeback win. Freshman guard Bria Hartley also continued to play beyond her years with 17 points including three 3-pointers.
Next, the Huskies routed the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils 75-40, as they did on Jan. 31 87-51, to advance to the Final Four.
Moore led all scorers for the second game in a row with 28 points and 10 rebounds, and topped the 3,000-point plateau in her Connecticut career. Hartley came up big again with 14 points, six assists and six rebounds.
The Irish also had high expectations coming into the NCAA Tournament, garnering a two seed in the Dayton Region. With a victory over the first-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, a team it hadn’t beaten in 21 attempts, Notre Dame more than lived up to its tournament hopes and reached the Final Four.
In the Sweet 16, the Irish faced the sixth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, who had reached the Final Four the previous two seasons.
Notre Dame came out on top 78-53, thanks to senior guard Brittany Mallory’s season-high 20 points and Oklahoma shooting 1-of-11 on 3-pointers (9.1 percent). Senior forward Devereaux Peters chipped in another 17 points on a night when sophomore guard Skylar Diggins, the team’s second-leading scorer on the year, scored only six.
Diggins came out of her shell in the Elite Eight against the Volunteers, picking up 24 points and four steals. Tennessee, after being down by as many as eight points in the first half, narrowed the deficit to one early in the second half, but Diggins responded with back-to-back buckets.
For the rest of the game, Diggins and junior guard Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame’s leading scorer for the year at 14.9 points per game, answered each of the Volunteers’ threats with clutch baskets to help the Irish pull away to a 73-59 upset.