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Deja Vu, Irish End Huskies Season Again in Final 4

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 01: Tiffany Hayes #3 of the Connecticut Huskies attempts to control the ball against Skylar Diggins #4 and Brittany Mallory #22 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center on April 1, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – APRIL 01: Tiffany Hayes #3 of the Connecticut Huskies attempts to control the ball against Skylar Diggins #4 and Brittany Mallory #22 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center on April 1, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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Bob talk to Associate Chris Dailey and has the highlights. Kara has locker room reaction from Kelly Faris and Caroline Doty.


By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) _ A rebuilding year for Connecticut nearly turned
into a remarkable one.

It still might go down as one of the most memorable for coach
Geno Auriemma. Once the pain subsides, that is, and he has time to
reflect.

The young and pesky Huskies rallied to force overtime Sunday
night before Big East rival Notre Dame pulled away for an 83-75
victory in the NCAA semifinals.

Even in what was supposed to be a season of transition, UConn
remained a serious title threat right down to the wire.

For the second straight year, though, Connecticut had to watch
the Irish celebrate a trip to the championship game as it trudged
off the court in tears.

After a late comeback, UConn (33-5) unraveled in overtime as
Brittany Mallory hit two clutch 3-pointers to help lift the Irish
(35-3).

“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” Auriemma
said. “The last 2 minutes, minute and a half of regulation, were
pretty amazing. As most games do, it turned on one great play by a
great player.

“In overtime, we didn’t have enough. We took a chance on making
it difficult, but Mallory made two huge shots. That’s who we wanted
to take the shots and … she made them.”

Coming into the game, the Huskies were highly motivated to
settle a score after losing to the Irish 72-63 at the women’s Final
Four last year.

But with sophomore center Stefanie Dolson in foul trouble for a
good portion of the second half and senior guard Tiffany Hayes
largely held in check, UConn simply ran out of steam in overtime.

With less than 4 seconds remaining in regulation, Hayes dribbled
the length of the court and passed to Bria Hartley, who couldn’t
get a shot off before the buzzer.

“We feel frustration,” UConn junior guard Kelly Faris said.
“This was the same thing as last year.”

Still, the Huskies made a deep run in what was supposed to be a
“mediocre” year.

Then again, this is what a mediocre season looks like at
Connecticut: 33 wins and a fifth straight trip to the Final Four.

It just may have been Auriemma’s best coaching job during his
27-year stint at the school.

The cupboard was far from bare, but after the departure of
All-American Maya Moore, few believed UConn had the playmakers to
make a run at an eighth national title.

So much for that notion.

There the Huskies were, close to toppling a foe they knew so
well. It was the fourth time the Huskies and Irish met this season
_ Notre Dame won three of them.

They know each other’s secrets and strategies, probably better
than their own.

Although the Huskies will lose Hayes, they had quite a few
budding stars rise up with the spotlight shining so bright. Dolson
finished with 20 points despite drawing her fourth foul early in
the second half, while Hartley had 18 points and freshman Kaleena
Mosqueda-Lewis contributed 13.

“A lot of the teams that have been here before, your freshmen
and sophomores aren’t going to win you national championships,”
Auriemma said. “It wasn’t until the last minute Kelly was making
the plays she normally makes. Our defense was fine for the first 40
minutes; we just passed up too many opportunities against Notre
Dame. They’re just that good.”

In the locker room after the game, Auriemma told his players
something he hopes sticks with them.

“He thinks we’ll be back here next year,” Faris said.

For Notre Dame, with four starters back, nothing but a return to
trip to the national championship game would suffice.

Hence, the Irish’s mantra.

All season long, they were driven by a simple yet compelling
credo: “Unfinished business.”

The slogan stems from their 76-70 loss to Texas A&M in the title
game last season.

Now, the Irish are back and will play undefeated Baylor (39-0)
on Tuesday night.

But the semifinal win was far from easy.

It never is against Connecticut, especially in the thin air of
the Mile High City.

“We were very tired. But, they were just as tired,” Irish
guard Natalie Novosel said. “It came down to heart.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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