Choatic final possessions costs UConn
Rallying from an 11-point second-half deficit, somehow UConn had possession of the ball with the shot clock off in a tie game. All it would take was one well-executed final play and UConn would be celebrating its 19th Big East tournament title.
Instead, what transpired was one of the most bizarre endings to a game I can recall.
It started after a timeout with 18 seconds to play when Kelly Faris tried to get the ball to Breanna Stewart so the freshman could go in the lane in score. However. her pass forced Stewart to have to make a remarkable play to just catch the ball. When she backed it out, UConn coach Geno Auriemma nearly called a timeout and if he had to do it again, he likely would have. But with the ball back in the hands of the reliable Faris, Auriemma opted to let the play continue. Then Faris looked for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in the left corner. Mosqueda-Lewis was falling out of bounds and she was unable to get a shot off so she attempted to throw the ball to teammate Bria Hartley. However, the weak pass was easily picked off by Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins. As Diggins turned up the court, Hartley tried to foul her knowing UConn was not over the limit and it would result in Notre Dame having to inbound the ball. Instead, Diggins was able to turn, race up the court and hit a wide-open Natalie Achonwa who hit the game-winning basket with 1.8 seconds to play.
“I thought 'we were going to win this game or force them to go into overtime,'” Hartley said. “I think the play we drew up was a good one, we worked on it in practice and got a lot out of it. I think it was just unfortunate.”
The ironic part of the play is that the original design of it is to get Mosqueda-Lewis an open shot at the top of the key which is exactly what was available.
"It's funny, we just wnet over it this morning," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We ran a little misdirection thing and Kaleena was wide open but we got Stewie for the layup on the lob and Stewie is looking for that as it turns out. Kaleena was wide open at the top of the key. Stewie made a great catch and next time she is in that situation after she catches it, she is going to square up, attack the basket, score and get fouled but she is too young to understand that right now. It is one of those plays where you only need two, a score and foul or just a foul. When Stewie caught it, I thought we were in great shape. I probably should have called timeout when Stewie backed out and passed it so I take responsibility for that one."
With how well Stewart played (Stefanie Dolson, Mosqueda-Lewis and Diana Taurasi are the only UConn freshmen to score more points in a Big East tournament than the 51 scored by Stewart), it is no wonder she was given the chance to win the game.
Instead, the Huskies are left on the wrong end of a nail-biting loss.
"I feel really bad for these guys. I thought they played an amazing second half," Auriemma said. "We put ourselves in a big hole in the first half and I thought we came out in the second half and played great and Kayla McBride just made big shot after big shot and not easy ones either. They deserved to win because they made one more play at the end."
If there is a silver lining is that the Huskies won't see the Fighting Irish again unless both teams reach the Final Four and unlike recent losses to Notre Dame, this time it was UConn rallying from behind to nearly steal the game.
Auriemma did chuckle in the post-game press conference that the referees unwillingness to call a foul on his team was a huge play in the game after he has publicly commented on the foul disparity in games against the Fighting Irish.
"We fouled her (Diggins) three times," Auriemma said. "I guess it took a long time for them not to call fouls on us but they picked the worst time because we fouled her three times and we were trying not to make it intentional. As it turned out, we would had had to tackle her for them to call it. We tried and we knew we had a foul to give. We saved it to the end and like so many of these games, it was not meant to be."
The sad thing is that this will be the last time the teams meet in a Big East contest. Notre Dame is officially headed to the ACC next season and UConn is part of a yet to be named league made up of the Big East football schools along with the addition of Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist.
They have met in the national semifinals in each of the last two seasons (with Notre Dame winning both) and perhaps that could happen again.
"History has shown that what happens during the regular season doesn't necessarily mean that is what is going to happen in the postseason," Auriemma said. "There is a lot of basketball to be played before there is a chance of a Connecticut/Notre Dame game. We are going to get together on Saturday and start preparing for round one of the NCAA tournament and that is as far as we are looking towards right now."