TAMPA, Fla. - It wasn't as easy this time around, but Connecticut's women's basketball team held off Notre Dame, earning its third straight national championship with a 63-53 win Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.
Senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored seven straight points down the stretch, and juniors Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart led the Huskies to their fifth title in the last seven years -- and second straight over the Fighting Irish -- giving UConn (38-1) and coach Geno Auriemma their 10th title since 1995.
Women's college basketball's best rivalry didn't disappoint -- Notre Dame (36-3) didn't go away, pulling within six points with 5:30 to play. But the Huskies' Mosqueda-Lewis hit a huge three, then followed with two more baskets for a 63-50 lead with 2:21 to play.
Notre Dame, which had lost its last three games to UConn by at least 18 points, started the second half with a spark, getting a three-pointer from guard Michaela Mabrey to cut the Huskies' lead to 31-26. But UConn answered with a 7-0 run, including four points from freshman guard Kia Nurse.
Notre Dame had its own freshman step up in forward Brianna Turner, who missed the first meeting with UConn with a shoulder injury. Turner was held scoreless in the opening half, then scored 14 points in the second half and had 10 rebounds.
Stewart, honored as the Naismith Player of the Year yesterday, had eight points and a game-high 15 rebounds, and Jefferson had 15 points, including three three-pointers. Mosqueda-Lewis also had 15 points.
Notre Dame kept it close for most of the first half, though the Huskies got the final four points of the half for a 31-23 halftime lead.
Notre Dame led 9-6 early after a three-pointer by Mabrey, but the Huskies answered with a 12-2 run, including seven straight points by Mosqueda-Lewis.
UConn forced 13 turnovers by the Fighting Irish in the first half, with Stewart getting six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Stewart twisted her ankle late in the half and left the game briefly but returned.
Notre Dame has been to the last five Final Fours and has come up empty all five times. They beat UConn in the semifinals in 2011 and 2012 before losing to Texas A&M and Baylor in the finals, then lost to the eventual champion Huskies in each of the last three seasons.
UConn advanced to last night's final with an easy win over Maryland on Sunday night, while Notre Dame needed a basket with 16 seconds left to beat South Carolina in the first semifinal.