NEW ORLEANS – Breanna Stewart put on quite a show to help UConn finally vanquish Notre Dame.
The stellar freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks, leading the Huskies to the national championship game with an 83-65 win over Notre Dame on Sunday night.
The Huskies will face Louisville in the championship game Tuesday night in an all-Big East final after the Cardinals rallied to beat California 64-57 in the other NCAA semifinal. UConn will be going for its eighth national championship to match Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball history.
No team has dominated Geno Auriemma’s Huskies the way that the Irish had over the past few seasons.
UConn (34-4) had lost the previous two national semifinals to the Irish and dropped three thrilling games this season to their rival.
Stewart and her teammates wouldn’t let it happen again, ending the brilliant career of Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins. She finished her last college game with 10 points, going a dismal 3 for 15 from the field.
Once you get here you’re only gonna beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they’re really, really good, Auriemma said. For one night, that’s what’s great about the NCAA tournament, for one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were.
The Huskies built a 10-point halftime lead playing incredible defense and Notre Dame (35-2) could only get within six in the second half as its school record 30-game winning streak came to an end.
Two years ago, the Huskies won the first three meetings before Notre Dame shocked them in the national semifinals. Notre Dame had won seven of the previous eight meetings before Sunday night and this one, for once, started slowly. With the teams so familiar with each other, getting easy baskets was virtually impossible. Notre Dame went nearly 7 1/2 minutes without a field goal missing 14 consecutive shots.
The Huskies couldn’t take advantage against the Irish scoring only four points themselves.
Diggins was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half as the Huskies harassed her all over the court.
She scored the Irish’s first two points on free throws and didn’t have another point until getting a steal early in the second half and converting it for the easy layup to make it 42-35.
The two-time All-American tried to do everything she could to rally her team. Twice she chased down Hartley on the break to block her shot.
UConn led 50-43 with 12:22 left before Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart hit back-to-back threes to give the Huskies their biggest lead of the game to that point.
Notre Dame freshman Jewell Loyd scored five points during a 9-2 run to get the Irish within 61-55.
That was as close as they could get as Stewart and UConn scored the next seven points to seal the victory.