Coming into Saturday’s blood match with Connecticut, Notre Dame freshman Michaela Mabry had taken 20 three-pointers. She’d made six.
Coming into Saturday’s blood match with Notre Dame, Connecticut sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had taken 67 three-pointers. She’d made 35.
So naturally, Mabry averaging 4.9 points a game, drills three of four three-pointers. And naturally, Mosqueda-Lewis, one of the great shooters in the women’s game, had a great look at a wide-open three to win the game in the waning seconds – and missed.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the story of Notre Dame’s 73-72 win in hostile Gampel Pavilion than just two players’ three-point percentages. There was Kayla McBride upstaging Irish star Skylar Diggins with a game-high 21 points. There was Connecticut post Stefanie Dolson getting 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
And then there was Geno Auriemma’s blood pressure, which had to be off the charts after his Huskies lost their fourth game in the last five outings against Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame, with this one coming at home, and UConn at No. 1 in the nation.
Then again, Auriemma wasn’t complaining that much after the game. "You got the best 3-point shooter in the country with a wide open three to win it and it doesn't go in," he said. "I'd be more upset if the wrong guy took the wrong shot at the wrong time. We came out of timeout and got the shot we wanted and it didn't go in."
And this was only round one for Notre Dame and Connecticut, which could conceivably meet three more times before this season is over – and Auriemma can afford to play the long game. After all, his freshmen haven’t had their feet put to the fire in a season in which the Huskies had won by an average of 43 points, and it was clear he was going to let youngster Breanna Stewart get tempered in the heat of a fiery rivalry.
Stewart, despite her glowing reputation and undisputed talent, did not rise to the occasion – this time. In fact, she was Exhibit A in the old coaches’ quiz: What’s the best thing about a freshman? Next year, she’s a sophomore.
Stewart missed 12 shots, had no assists, turned the ball over four times and had two fouls. That’s 18 negative plays, if you’re counting, which of course were offset somewhat by the six blocks and nine rebounds. Then again, in the final two minutes Stewart missed a three, had a shot blocked that turned into a jump ball and missed yet another shot – while Dolson didn’t get a look.
Mosqueda-Lewis did, though. In fact, she had two great looks at three-pointers in the final minute, and missed them both. And with Notre Dame trailing 72-71, the left-handed Diggins came down the court with Bria Hartley firmly in place on her favored left hand. Diggins, however, just kept dribbling with her right hand and drove all the way to the hoop. There was no help from Stewart or Dolson, and all Hartley could do was foul.
The senior, who was just four of 15 from the field and had missed three free throws already, calmly nailed both, and Connecticut’s sophomore (Mosqueda-Lewis) and freshman (Stewart) couldn’t answer.
It seemed inevitable the game would come to down to clutch plays in the final minute, even when Notre Dame built a 29-20 lead, and Connecticut led 60-55. The Huskies couldn’t make the threes the Irish defense gave them, and with only McBride and Mabrey supplying any offensive consistency, Notre Dame wasn’t about to pull away.
But again, this was just round one in what looks like will be a season-long slugfest. And if Notre Dame has to rely on Mosqueda-Lewis missing three-pointers, and Mabry making them, then an Irish sweep is unlikely.
Of course, Diggins isn’t going to miss 11 shots and turn the ball over seven times again, so it’s not as if Notre Dame has nothing to look forward to – except round two, which will be March 4 in South Bend.
Set your DVRs now.