DENVER -- A look at the first half of Sunday's national semifinal game between Notre Dame and Connecticut at the Pepsi Center.
First-half analysis: Connecticut 36, Notre Dame 33
HOW THE HALF WAS WON: The Huskies did it by being the aggressor. They got down early, 7-2, but kept coming after the Irish. Once Stefanie Dolson made a couple of buckets, UConn was able to use its three-quarter-court pressure. That immediately set the tempo to the way the Huskies wanted it -- and it stayed that way the rest of the half, despite Notre Dame's efforts to run the shot clock down at a number of different possessions midway through the half.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: UConn's Stefanie Dolson. The Huskies' early strategy clearly was to go to their sophomore center. She took four of the Huskies' first five shots, scoring eight of UConn's first 13 points. She was able to get position against Devereaux Peters down low, and the UConn guards got Dolson the ball with precision over-the-defense lobs. The intense pace of the game, though, required Dolson to exit the game for a breather after the first official time-out. She was only out for about a minute of game time. In a half that would be characterized as intense, Dolson provided more energy than anyone. She finished the first 20 minutes with 12 points and five rebounds.
PLAYER OF THE HALF II: Connecticut's Bria Hartley. The sophomore point guard made two early 3-pointers, the second of which put the Huskies ahead for the first time at 13-11. It was a lead the Huskies never lost after being down 7-2 early. Hartley also got the better of her point guard counterpart Skylar Diggins. Hartley had success getting by Diggins off the dribble and finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
PLAYER OF THE HALF III: Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel. Like she often does, the senior kept Notre Dame in the game with the hustle plays that all the players said would be so important in this eighth matchup of the two teams in the last two seasons. Brittany Mallory was also grinding, but Novosel's hustle more often ended in points. She leads Notre Dame with 11 points.
KEY STAT: The Huskies wanted to keep Notre Dame's trips to the free throw line to a minimum. And they were able to do that. Notre Dame made just 3-of-6 free throws.
KEY STAT II: Of the Irish's 19 first-half boards, 10 came on the offensive glass.
THREE THINGS NOTRE DAME HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Get Diggins going. Until she scored consecutive baskets with about three minutes to play, Diggins was not a big factor. Hartley was getting the best of her on both ends, and even as a floor general, Diggins wasn't playing like herself. Nothing illustrated that more than the offensive foul she picked up with 46 seconds left on an out-of-control drive to the basket.
2. Run the offense more efficiently. Part of that might be Diggins' struggles, but the high-low game wasn't particularly effective, either. The first prototypical Irish bucket -- Devereaux Peters to Natalie Achonwa -- didn't come until the 1:46 mark.
3. Be better and tougher on defense. Connecticut's guards too often were able to get by Irish defenders with the dribble. UConn was the much better one-on-one team all half -- that was the Huskies' biggest advantage.
THREE THINGS CONNECTICUT HAS TO DO TO WIN:
1. Keep attacking. The most unique part of the first half with two teams so familiar with one another was that UConn pressed after made baskets all 20 minutes. It turned Notre Dame over a few times, but more importantly, established the game's pace and energy. UConn was the aggressor and it started with the press.
2. Get Tiffany Hayes going. Hartley and Dolson were outstanding in the first 20 minutes. Hayes got three steals, but wasn't much of an offensive factor with just four points.
3. Rebound better. UConn coach Geno Auriemma made note of how this would be a key part of his team's success against Notre Dame, and the Huskies were beaten on the boards, 19-14. Losing the rebounding battle has been a common thread when UConn has lost to the Irish in the past.