Fourth time the charm as UConn eliminates Notre Dame

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Entering Sunday’s national semifinal there were questions as to whether Notre Dame found a way to get into the heads of the UConn Huskies. The Fighting Irish won all three prior meetings this season and were 7-1 in their last eight games against the Huskies.

But it was Notre Dame that struggled mightily in New Orleans, shooting just 29% from the field in a game that UConn grabbed control of late in the first half. The end result was an 83-65 UConn victory, with the Huskies advancing to take on Louisville in the national title game Tuesday night.

Breanna Stewart, the highly-touted freshman who was beaten out by Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd for Big East Freshman of the Year, put forth the best outing of her young career with a career-high 29 points (10-of-15 FG) and five rebounds.

As a team the Huskies shot 46.8% from the field and its reserves outscored Notre Dame’s 20-9 (Bria Hartley: 16 points), which made up for their 22 turnovers. But for as big of a story it is for the Huskies to exorcise some demons there’s also the fact that Notre Dame had its worst offensive performance of the year in its biggest game of the season.

Skylar Diggins scored ten points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field, and in total the Notre Dame starters shot 18-of-66 (27.2%). The Fighting Irish managed to grab 28 offensive rebounds but they were unable to take advantage of those extra opportunities (20-17 UConn edge in second chance points), which ultimately led to their demise.

Diggins helped lead Notre Dame to three consecutive trips to the Final Four, but the program was unable to get over the hump in the sport’s biggest weekend. However it would be unfair to judge her storied career solely on the absence of a national title.

UConn and Louisville met just once during the regular season, a 72-58 Husky victory on January 15 (Stewart missed this game due to injury). The two programs played for the national title four years ago, with the Huskies winning 76-64 in St. Louis.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.