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Irish top UConn in OT, gain title game berth
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - In a fierce rivalry, it took a fifth-year senior to put Notre Dame over the top of Connecticut and into the NCAA Tournament's championship game for a second straight season.
Brittany Mallory made two crucial three-point shots in overtime and the Fighting Irish earned an 83-75 victory over the Huskies.
Notre Dame (35-3), which set a school record for wins in a season, will play Baylor in Tuesday night's championship game. The Fighting Irish, who gained a third national title game appearance, will try for their second championship, having won it all in 2001.
To climb the mountain for the title, though, Notre Dame will have to overcome Brittney Griner and an unbeaten Baylor team. The Lady Bears, who beat Stanford in the other national semifinal Sunday night, won at home over the Fighting Irish, 94-81, on Nov. 20.
The Huskies (33-5) were trying to earn a spot in the championship game for the third time in four years, but were eliminated by Notre Dame in the Final Four for a second straight season.
Notre Dame, which lost to Texas A&M in last year's finale, beat the Huskies three of the four times the two Big East powerhouses played this year.
Natalie Novosel had 20 points and Skylar Diggins chipped in 19 points for Notre Dame. Devereaux Peters ended with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Mallory scored seven of her 11 points in overtime.
"I am euphoric right now for Brittany Mallory," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "What a way for a senior to through like that in one of her last games of her career."
Stefanie Dolson, who fought off foul trouble, had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies.
Bria Hartley, who scored 18, hit a three-pointer to begin overtime, lifting the Huskies to a 70-67 lead, but Diggins made a three and Mallory gave the Irish the lead for good with by nailing a shot from the right corner.
Dolson scored off a no-look pass from Kelly Faris, and the Huskies failed on a chance to go ahead. Tiffany Hayes came up with a steal, but Hartley missed a layup when Diggins came up with a big block.
Mallory then made it a four-point margin with another three-ball, this one from the right wing with 1 1/2 minutes left.
"My teammates kept talking to me, 'you're going to hit a shot.' I didn't get down on myself. It couldn't have come at a better time," Mallory said.
She even came up with a steal on the ensuing possession. The Irish went 7- of-8 from the foul line in the final minute.
Neither team led by more than six in the first half, which finished with the Huskies holding a 36-33 lead. Dolson picked up her fourth foul less than three minutes into the second half.
"I just know I had to stay as aggressive as I could without fouling and just be smart, because I knew the team needed me in there to get rebounds and make shots," Dolson said.
It was a wild end to regulation. Faris made a follow shot just after a UConn steal to pull the Huskies within 65-63. She then made a pair of free throws with 44.4 seconds left, as a blocking call was made despite Faris plowing into Peters.
Novosel then back-rimmed a pull-up jumper, but UConn lost the ball at the other end. The Huskies got it right back when Faris stole the ball from Kayla McBride and cruised in for a layup, but missed while being fouled by Diggins.
Faris sank two from the charity stripe with 11.8 seconds left for a 67-65 UConn edge.
Diggins rushed back the other way and her runner missed, but Novosel was under the hoop and the senior guard used a right-handed scoop follow shot to tie the game. The Huskies failed to get off a shot before the regulation buzzer.
"We put ourselves in the position to win the game. That last two minutes, minute and a half of regulation was pretty amazing," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
04/01 23:11:46 ET