UConn vs. ND in Big East Final
By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Get ready for UConn-Notre Dame, Part III.
The teams who played a triple-overtime thriller a week ago will meet for the Big East title Tuesday night. It’s a fitting way for the conference to end its current format with the teams splitting up next year.
Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis each scored 14 points and No. 3 Connecticut beat 22nd-ranked Syracuse 64-51 on Monday night in the semifinals to set up the title matchup.
“Seems like it’s been us and Notre Dame for a long time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We’re the best teams in the league and it’s fitting that the two best teams in the league should play.”
The Huskies have dominated the Irish in the title game, winning all six of the meetings between the schools, including the last two. Yet the Irish have had the Huskies’ number over the last two seasons outside of that game.
For UConn to extend its streak of 19 straight seasons with either a regular season or Big East tournament championship, the Huskies will have to figure out a way to solve the Irish. Notre Dame has won six of the past seven meetings since losing to the Huskies in the 2011 Big East title game.
“I’m going to coach the same way I coached the last two times we played them,” Auriemma said. “What I think and feel it doesn’t matter one iota. What’s most important is how our players feel and how we play tomorrow and how we play the whole game.”
Against Syracuse, the Huskies (29-3) led by 15 at the half, but uncharacteristically couldn’t pull away.
Kayla Alexander scored 14 to lead the Orange (24-7).
UConn led 24-18 midway through the first half before Mosqueda-Lewis started a 15-6 run with a 3-pointer. Her second 3 of the burst made it 32-22. Then, Stewart took over by scoring six of the next eight points. Her jumper in the lane made it 39-24 with 2:57 left in the half.
Brittney Sykes’ layup 45 seconds earlier was the last basket the Orange would get for nearly 91/2 minutes spanning the halves.
Surprisingly, Connecticut couldn’t really take advantage, only scoring seven points over that span. The Huskies kept passing up shots and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. It got so bad that at one point coach Geno Auriemma yelled at his team to “just shoot the ball.”
“I thought we did a really good job in the first half of being aggressive,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “I think we just kind of lost our flow somewhere. Syracuse just seemed to speed us up. We got out of our own rhythm. We didn’t have a lot of composure.”
The turnovers allowed the Orange to hang around despite the offensive drought.
Trailing 46-27, Syracuse rallied. Carmen Tyson-Thomas hit two 3-pointers sandwiched around Elashier Hall’s basket. Brianna Butler’s layup capped a 13-3 run and brought the Orange within nine. That’s as close as they could get thanks in part because of the strong play by Stewart.
“When the lead gets to 15 on a floor like this it could easily go to 30, 40, 50,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We found a way to battle back through a couple of runs to make the game manageable. We had a chance to get it to seven or eight and didn’t make some plays.”
The highly touted freshman, who grew up in Syracuse, has struggled for most of the season showing brief flashes of the talent that earned her high school player of the year honors last season. In Sunday’s win over DePaul, she had 21 points. A night later, she kept it going. The Huskies will need another strong effort from her against Notre Dame.
Stewart has averaged just 7.5 points against the Irish this season and made just six of her 24 shots.
Syracuse made it to the semifinals for the first time since 2002. Alexander, who matched her career high with 34 points in the second round, became the first Syracuse player to reach 2,000 points when she hit a free throw with 1:40 left. She finished the game with 2,001.
“When I first got here my freshman year, my goal was to get playing time and contribute,” Alexander said. “The fact that I got 2000, that’s mind-blowing. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.”
The Orange were playing in their last Big East tournament as they are headed to the ACC next season. They continued their struggles against UConn. Syracuse, which was off to its best mark after 30 games, hasn’t beaten the Huskies since 1996.
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