It's on the way! No. 2 UConn visits No. 1 Notre Dame on Sunday (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET) in what has become the premier matchup in women's college basketball. Their 49th meeting comes eight months after one of their most exciting games, in last season's national semifinals.
With that fantastic finish in mind, we rank the top 10 plays in series history -- but with a caveat. We're only going back to 2001, when the series began to become a rivalry. Coach Muffet McGraw's Irish and Geno Auriemma's Huskies first met Jan. 18, 1996, the season Notre Dame joined the Big East. UConn won the first 11 meetings, so it took a while for this to develop. UConn holds a 36-12 lead in the series. It has had its share of duds, as 33 games were won by double-digit margins. But it has also had some fantastic gems and unforgettable moments.
No. 1: Ogunbowale for the win
March 30, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio, Final Four: As huge as it felt in the moment, two days later would show how truly momentous it was. This was the buzzer-beater that led to an even bigger buzzer-beater. Both were by Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale, the hero of what most consider the greatest Women's Final Four.
UConn had won the previous seven games in the series, including NCAA finals in 2014 and '15. The Irish had been plagued by knee injuries all of the 2017-18 season and had little depth. They lost the ACC tournament final, to Louisville, for the first time since joining the league. Many didn't pick them to make the Final Four, even though they were a No. 1 seed.
Mississippi State beat Louisville in the first semifinal in overtime. Then the Irish dominated the first quarter and the Huskies the second of their semi. UConn led 41-34 at halftime. Notre Dame rallied and seemed to have the game in hand, up 79-74 with 21 seconds left. But Napheesa Collier's 3-pointer, and a steal and layup by Kia Nurse, forced the second overtime of the night, 79-79.
The teams traded big shots in the extra period, but then came the biggest: With the score tied and time running out, Ogunbowale's long jump shot was the winner, 91-89. She and fellow guard Jackie Young combined for 59 points, and the Huskies lost for the second year in a row on an overtime buzzer-beater in the national semifinals.
Ogunbowale wasn't done, though. In the final against Mississippi State, her 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer gave the Irish a 61-58 victory and their second national championship.
No. 2: Sue Bird at the buzzer
March 6, 2001, at UConn, Big East tournament final: It might seem like blasphemy for this to be second, considering it was the most famous shot of the series before Ogunbowale's. But that led to a national championship. This one didn't. Still, from a historical perspective, considering who made it and how much talent was on the floor that night, it still holds strong in second place.
The Irish had beaten UConn for the first time on Jan. 15, 2001, at Notre Dame. Almost two months later in the league tournament final held on UConn's home court in Storrs, the Huskies were in some emotional turmoil. The star of their 2000 national championship victory, Shea Ralph, injured her knee with 5:18 left in the first half, and her college career was over. The Huskies already had lost another senior starter, Svetlana Abrosimova, to a season-ending injury in February.
But they had some legendary players ready to step up, including junior Sue Bird, who had already made a half-court heave just before halftime. After Notre Dame tied the score at 76 on a Ruth Riley free throw with 5 seconds left, Bird took the ball the length of the court and pulled up on the left side for a jump shot. It hit the front of the rim and bounced in as time expired. Bedlam in Gampel Pavilion.
The game and the rivalry even led to a book, "Bird at the Buzzer," by former UConn beat writer Jeff Goldberg. Notre Dame would have the last word on this season, but we'll get to that soon.
No. 3: Ratay on the money, as usual
March 30, 2001, in St. Louis, Final Four: Notre Dame guard Alicia Ratay (pronounced "ra-TIE") led the nation in 3-point shooting, hitting 54 percent from long range heading into the Final Four in what had been a breakthrough season for the Irish. They'd gotten their first win over UConn in January, and shrugged off the Big East loss to advance to their second national semifinal, having previously made it in 1997.
But things were going badly: The Irish fell behind by 15 at the start of the second half. Then, the momentum completely switched. Ratay's 3-pointer with 9:19 left gave Notre Dame a five-point lead, and the Irish poured it on from there, winning 90-75. Notre Dame went 8-of-11 from 3-point range, with Ratay making four treys and current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey three. The two guards combined for 41 points against the Huskies. Two days later, Notre Dame beat Purdue for its first NCAA title.
No. 4: Skylar's time to rise
April 3, 2011, in Indianapolis, Final Four: The Irish had not beaten the Huskies in six years. From March 2005 to March 2011, UConn had won 12 in a row -- its longest streak of the series -- by an average of 15.0 points. Two of Notre Dame's worst losses of the series -- by 24 and 25 points -- had come in 2010.
In 2011, the Irish lost both regular-season games and the Big East tournament final to UConn. But they'd fallen at Notre Dame by just three points, the narrowest winning margin in the series by either team in a decade. After that game, sophomore guard and South Bend native Skylar Diggins said, "I'm excited about the future of this team. We'll see UConn again."
Notre Dame got its first victory over Tennessee -- after 20 losses to the Lady Vols -- in the regional final. Then in the national semifinal against UConn, Notre Dame rallied from down eight at the start of the second half. Diggins' 3-point play with 13:17 left sent the Irish fans into a frenzy, putting Notre Dame up 41-38. They never surrendered the lead, and ended Maya Moore's UConn career with a 72-63 victory.
Notre Dame lost the final to Texas A&M. But Diggins and Notre Dame had launched the Irish's best stretch in the rivalry, when they would win seven of eight against UConn from 2011-2013.
No. 5: When Stewie became Stewie
April 7, 2013, in New Orleans, Final Four: What a two-year stretch for the rivalry: The eight UConn-Notre Dame games of 2012 and '13 could make for another book.
Notre Dame went 3-1 against the Huskies in 2013, but UConn got the one that counted most in the national semifinals. Freshman Breanna Stewart essentially took over the women's college game at that event, scoring 29 points in an 83-65 semifinal victory over the Irish.
Notre Dame got within 61-55 with 6:26 left, but UConn boosted its lead back to double digits. Then Stewart blocked Kayla McBride's shot with 4:14 left, one of her four swats of the game. She rebounded Jewell Loyd's putback attempt, was fouled, and hit both free throws. In those 6 seconds, Stewart slammed the door on Notre Dame. The Huskies then beat Louisville for the first of four titles behind Stewart, who was named the Final Four's most outstanding player each time.
No. 6: Ace in the right place
March 12, 2013, in Hartford, Connecticut, Big East tournament final: The Irish got their third victory of the 2013 season over UConn, prevailing 61-59. Natalie "Ace" Achonwa hit the winning layup with 1.8 seconds left after a pass from Diggins, who had stolen the ball with 8 seconds remaining.
It was a thriller that left the Irish exultant and the Huskies in tears. But Auriemma told his despondent players in the locker room that if they listened to him, he could help them win the national championship. And that's what happened.
No. 7: McBride's big shot in marathon
March 4, 2013, at Notre Dame: In a triple-overtime instant classic, the longest game between the teams, the Irish prevailed 96-87. There were numerous big plays and missed chances by both teams, but no play was bigger than McBride's tying 3-pointer with 8 seconds left in the first overtime. It was the normally sharp-shooting Irish's only made 3-pointer of the game, as they went 1-of-12 from behind the arc. McBride finished with 26 points and Diggins with 29.
For the second year in a row the Irish won both regular-season meetings; Diggins had hit two free throws in the final minute to clinch a 73-72 victory in January 2013.
No. 8: Novosel nails it
April 1, 2012, in Denver, Final Four: After the Irish won the two 2012 regular-season meetings, the Huskies took the Big East tournament title. That set up the second of what would be three consecutive NCAA semifinals between UConn and Notre Dame.
Natalie Novosel got a rebound off Diggins' miss and tied the score at 67 with 3 seconds left, sending the teams to their second overtime contest of the season. In the extra period, Diggins blocked a shot with Notre Dame clinging to a 73-72 lead, and the Irish went on an 8-0 run to clinch the victory. Novosel led the Irish with 20 points.
Undefeated Baylor was too much in the final, though, as Notre Dame lost in the championship game for the second year in a row.
No. 9 Huskies' Hoosier hero
Jan. 8, 2011, at Notre Dame: UConn had seen its then-record 90-game winning streak end the previous week at Stanford, and Notre Dame was eager to hand the Huskies another loss.
But UConn's Kelly Faris, playing in her native Indiana, didn't let that happen. Faris hit a layup with 14 seconds left that helped seal a 79-76 victory for the Huskies. Novosel had given Notre Dame a 76-75 lead with 29 seconds left before Faris' winning shot; then UConn's Stefanie Dolson closed out the game with two free throws.
Faris finished with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
10. KML delivers the TKO
April 7, 2015, in Tampa, Florida, NCAA championship game: Some background: Starting in the 2013-14 season, the teams were no longer in the same conference, as Notre Dame went to the ACC, and UConn to the American Athletic Conference. There was no regular-season meeting -- the only time that has happened since the series began -- with both sides blaming the other. Of the Irish's contention that they had done all they could to schedule the game, Auriemma quipped in late March, "Let me just say it's not nice to fib during Lent."
That was pretty hilarious to everyone except those at the nation's pre-eminent Catholic university. McGraw was expectedly icy in response; that antipathy and the teams' combined 76-0 records could have made for an epic 2014 NCAA final.
However, Irish senior center Achonwa had suffered an ACL injury in the regional final and couldn't play in the Final Four. Her absence was too much for Notre Dame to overcome in an anticlimactic 79-58 UConn cruise to the title.
Fast-forward a year to another NCAA final. The Irish trailed by 12 early in the second half, but Notre Dame cut the lead to six three different times. The final time, though, was answered by a dagger 3-pointer from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with 4:58 left. That put the Irish down for the count, and UConn went on for a 63-53 victory. Mosqueda-Lewis finished her college career scoring 15 points, including UConn's last seven of the game, and the Huskies won their 10th championship, tying UCLA on the men's side.