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BIG EAST Showdown: Fighting Irish Top Huskies in Thriller

Jan 6, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill) AP

The fifth-ranked Fighting Irish traveled to Storrs, Conn. to take on the top-ranked Huskies in what could be a preview of the NCAA national championship come spring, and proved that they’re one of the nation’s top teams.

The Connecticut Huskies (12-0) beat their previous 12 opponents by an average of 43 points, including a rout of then-top-ranked Stanford 61-35, so for the Irish to come out and never trail by more than five points was an exciting testament to their potential this year.

The BIG EAST matchup was full of lead changes (10) and momentum swings, but never big enough to tip the balance one way or the other, and the Irish went into the half leading 38-37. The Huskies came out with a big second half surge and took over the lead, looking like they might bust the game open and run away with another win, but Notre Dame’s star guard Skylar Diggins was not on board.

With 8:28 left in the game and the Huskies leading by four, Diggins threw up a shot of desperation seconds before the shot clock expired that somehow found the basket, drawing the Irish within two. That play served as a clear turning point for the Irish, reviving some energy that had been lost in the Huskies’ second-half run.

From there, the team’s traded one-point leads and fouls until the clock wound down to the final minute. Notre Dame led 73-72 after Diggins sank two free throws with 0:50 left.

Connecticut took it down off the inbound and got it to freshman star forward Breanna Stewart at the top of the key, but her three-point attempt was blocked by Notre Dame forward Ariel Braker.

Stewart was able to recover her rebound to keep Connecticut’s hopes alive, but another missed shot, another offensive rebound, and two Connecticut timeouts later, Braker came through again collecting a rebound off a last-chance missed three-point jumper from Huskies freshman guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

Braker got the ball to Diggins, who dribbled away the remaining few seconds before launching the ball skyward in celebration of the dramatic victory.

It was a physical game, illustrated by the CBS commentator who remarked, “they’re gonna need a lot of ice bags in these locker rooms.”

Kayla McBride led the team in points scored with 21, as well as adding three rebounds and three assists. Diggins put up 19 points and was 9-for-12 from the foul line.

Diggins frequently faced double and even triple teaming, as Connecticut clearly recognized Notre Dame’s most dangerous threat.

This exciting matchup proved that there won’t be a dominant #1 this year in women’s college basketball, and that the Fighting Irish definitely have a shot at returning to the national championship for the third consecutive year. Much of the season remains ahead, but the Irish will carry a new, stronger confidence with them as they navigate the rest of their tricky schedule in the days leading up the tournament.

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