Published January 06. 2013 4:00AM
Storrs - For Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, it was akin to a goal line stand made by the football team earlier this season, one that helped propel the Fighting Irish to the BCS National Championship Game.
Similarly, these Irish, the ones who make up McGraw's fifth-ranked women's basketball team, led by one point with 49.4 seconds left Saturday afternoon against top-ranked UConn, only to watch as UConn took the last three shots.
The last, with six seconds remaining was a wide open 3-point attempt by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis on the right baseline. Mosqueda-Lewis entered the game shooting 53.2 percent from 3-point range, second in the country.
She missed short, handing Notre Dame a 73-72 victory at a sold-out Gampel Pavilion (10,167) in a rematch between the teams which are not only rivals in the Big East, but have met in each of the last two Final Fours.
Notre Dame (12-1, 1-0) has now beaten UConn in five of the last six matchups, dating back to April 3, 2011 at the Final Four in San Antonio … at which point UConn had won 12 straight in the series before the Irish flipped things on the Huskies (12-1, 0-1).
"There's a little pressure on an undefeated team," McGraw said of the final minutes, when Notre Dame overcame a five-point deficit to match the Huskies basket for basket. "Maybe (Mosqueda-Lewis) was too open. I wouldn't give (that shot) to her again, that's for sure."
Kayla McBride scored a career-high 21 points to lead Notre Dame and backcourt-mate Skylar Diggins, an All-American, finished with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, including putting the Irish ahead for good at the 49.4-second mark.
Following a Notre Dame timeout, Diggins dribbled the ball around the right sideline, waiting for things to clear out. She took UConn's Bria Hartley one-on-one to the basket, nearly sliding by before Hartley fouled her on the drive. She hit both free throws, giving Notre Dame the 73-72 lead.
UConn freshman Breanna Stewart then had the first scoring opportunity for the Huskies on their final trip down the floor, but was blocked by Notre Dame's Ariel Braker.
UConn, after a timeout, next kicked the ball out to Stewart, who missed a jump shot.
The Huskies had one final timeout with 21 seconds left and got seemingly the perfect shot.
"Kelly Faris drew the defense and kicked it out," a quiet Mosqueda-Lewis said. "I was just unlucky. It didn't go in. … It was more of a mental thing for us. We've got to know we're a strong and confident team and we've got to act like it."
"A little bit of disbelief," UConn center Stefanie Dolson said of the final outcome, once again falling to the Irish. "(Notre Dame) came out and did an awesome job at just being tough. I'm angry we lost. I'll be mad in the morning and I'll be mad in two weeks. … We can outwork them. We can outwork anyone we play. But we didn't show that tonight."
Mosqueda-Lewis and Dolson each finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, with Dolson adding six assists. Faris had 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and five steals and Stewart had 10 points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
Stewart, however, the national player of the year last season in high school and the Huskies' second-leading scorer, was 5-for-17 shooting, appearing more timid than normal. And Mosqueda-Lewis played just 26 minutes, 10 in the first half, because of foul trouble.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, did most things with the utmost confidence, beginning with Diggins.
Just as UConn fired up its offense to start the second half after trailing 38-36 at the break, Diggins connected for back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 50.
"I was just really pleased with our grit, with our determination. We went toe-to-toe with them. We took their best shot," McGraw said.
"I think a lot of people are afraid of the name on the front of their jersey," Diggins said of UConn. "I don't think we are anymore. I thought we did a good job showing that."