SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Second-ranked Notre Dame just wouldn't give up against No. 3 Connecticut.
Not when the Fighting Irish fell behind by six points in the first overtime, missing their first six shots from the field before Kayla McBride hit Notre Dame's only 3-pointer of the game in the closing seconds to tie the score. Not when McBride, who scored a career-high 26 points, fouled out moments after tying the score again in the second overtime only to have the Huskies surge to a five-point lead.
Notre Dame took its first lead of overtime in the third extra session, using a 12-2 run to finally put the game away for a 96-87 victory that gave the Irish their second straight outright Big East regular-season title.
"I was absolutely thrilled with the resilience of this group to refuse to lose," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We were done in regulation and the first and second overtimes. We just kept clawing away and got them to miss some free throws."
The Irish simply persevered and took advantage of UConn's inability to close out the win. The Huskies were 1 of 5 from the free -throw line in the first overtime and 7 of 13 overall from the foul line in overtime, while the Irish were 17 of 20. The Huskies also had 10 turnovers in the three overtimes, finishing with a school-record 35. The previous record was 30 against Southern California in 2002.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma blamed the loss on the Huskies' inability to handle the pressure Notre Dame's defense put on the ball.
"Unless we get better at that, then this is going to be it for us," he said. "This is going to be the story of our season. We're going to come up a little bit short."
Skylar Diggins, who led the Irish with 29 points and 11 rebounds, said the Irish came up with stops when they needed them.
"We were attacking. We tried to stay aggressive," Diggins said. "I mean, we're the Fighting Irish for a reason. I thought we fought."
Notre Dame (28-1, 16-0) went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96 and became the first team to win six of seven games against Connecticut (27-3, 14-2) in more than two decades.
Auriemma was disappointed his Huskies couldn't come up with a big play when they needed one.
"How many chances can you have?" Auriemma asked. "You're on the road against a really good team. You might get one chance. You might get two chances when it really matters. But you're not going to get unlimited chances."
Especially with Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley sitting on the bench after fouling out in the closing seconds of regulation. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led UConn with 26 points, Kelly Faris added 21 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs, Dolson had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Hartley finished with 10 points. Faris had a boot on her left foot after the game, saying she had suffered a minor sprain.
Mosqueda-Lewis said the Huskies need to find some answers because they could face the Irish again in the league tournament next week.
"I don't know how many times you can lose to the same team and keep getting the same result and think something different is going to happen. Whatever it is, something's got to change within our team," she said.
Diggins, playing in her final game before her hometown crowd, said the Irish showed their heart.
"We're all competitors from the head coach all the way down to the end of the bench. And we always feel like we can find a way to win," she said. "That's the mindset of our team."