26-4, 13-3 Conf

Irish top UConn to earn Big East regular season title

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Notre Dame has a Big East regular-season title all to itself for the first time.

Natalie Novosel scored 21 points and Skylar Diggins added 20 to help No. 3 Notre Dame beat fourth-ranked Connecticut 72-59 on Monday night and win its first outright conference championship.

The Fighting Irish shared the regular season championship with UConn in 2001 before going on to win the national title under coach Muffett McGraw.

Winning the Big East regular season title outright plugged one of the few holes in McGraw's impressive resume.

"This was on our list of things to do. We wanted to do this for coach," Novosel said.

The Irish (28-2, 15-1 Big East) had already clinched the top seed in the Big East tournament that begins Friday by virtue of the conference's tiebreaker. The Huskies fell to third in the conference, losing the tiebreaker to St. John's, which ended UConn's 99-game home winning streak on Feb. 18.

Tiffany Hayes scored 22 points and Stefanie Dolson added 18 for UConn (26-4, 13-3), which has now lost consecutive games at home for the first time in 19 years.

"Ultimately at the end of the day, you look at the things you didn't do," Dolson said. "I didn't finish at the end of the game. I didn't rebound at the end of the game. If we're going to win a championship I got to do those things."

The Irish hardly celebrated their big win on the court. Beating UConn isn't such a big deal to them at this point. Notre Dame swept the season series from the Huskies and has won three straight overall against UConn, including last season's victory in the national semifinals. North Carolina was the last team to win three in a row from UConn, doing so from 2004-07.

She and Diggins led the way.

With the game tied at 51, Notre Dame went on an 11-2 run with Diggins scoring the first eight points. She hit two layups on the fast break then connected on a deep 3-pointer. Dolson's layup broke up the junior guard's spurt. A free throw by Diggins and a 3-pointer by Brittany Mallory made it 62-53 with 9:16 left.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was scoreless in the first half, had five quick points to get UConn within four. That's as close as the Huskies could get. Devereaux Peters followed up a free throw with a block on the other end that led to an easy lay-in by Diggins. Mallory hit another 3-pointer with just under five minutes left that made it 69-59.

A 3-pointer with 3:11 left by Novosel made it a 13-point game and UConn coach Geno Auriemma called timeout. Unhappy with the play of his starters, he subbed them all out, putting in the reserves.

They didn't score and UConn suffered its first double-digit home loss since Dec. 5, 2005, against Tar Heels.

This was the first time in six seasons that UConn didn't win or share the Big East regular season title. The Huskies have won either the Big East regular season or tournament championship in the last 17 years.

"I think everyone in the country feels like they're in UConn's shadow," McGraw said.

UConn jumped out to a 25-18 lead midway through the first half behind Dolson and Hayes. The two combined to score all the points for the Huskies to that point. Hayes had the final five, including a deep 3-pointer, to give UConn a seven-point lead. Notre Dame called a timeout and the Irish promptly went on a 14-3 run over the next 5 minutes. Novosel had the final seven points of the burst, including an acrobatic three-point play. Her two free throws with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half capped the spurt and gave Notre Dame a 34-28 advantage.

The Irish led 38-35 at the half. Novosel had 14 points at the break as the Irish converted 12 offensive rebounds into 15 second chance points. Hayes had 18 points, easily surpassing her previous career high against the Irish of 13.