INDIANAPOLIS -- Back and forth they went on Sunday night, Maya Moore of UConn and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, each offering magic on the floor of the Conseco Fieldhouse. There was Diggins, with a name that oozes basketball and a game as smooth as her name, driving into the lane, pump-faking her defender off her feet, and sinking a mid-range deuce. There was Moore, the four-time All-America, fronting her man on the baseline, dropping a nasty shoulder shake, and sticking a sick turnaround jumper. The game's rising sophomore star and the game's current queen engaged in a battle of Can You Top This?
The ending proved unexpected, but well-deserved. Moore finished with a game-high 36 points, but it was Diggins who walked away a winner in
But it was a Hoosier who prevailed in Indianapolis on Sunday night. As the buzzer sounded, Diggins, a graduate of South Bend Washington High School, leapt into the arms of junior forward Devereaux Peters. Notre Dame now plays Texas A&M on Tuesday night (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) for the national championship.
"In the first half you could see that there was going to be a problem guarding her the whole game," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. "But we did a pretty decent job on everybody else. In the second half, we allowed her to get everybody else involved, and then it was not just having to guard Skylar, but it's the plays that she made for other people. That's what great players do. They take control of a situation, and she did. "
As Diggins' name was trending worldwide on Twitter after scoring 12 of Notre Dame's first 18 points, Moore struggled from the field. She missed four of her first five shots as Irish guard Brittany Mallory hounded her every move. But Moore got hot late in the half and finished with 15 first-half points, including a trio of three-pointers. Diggins had 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, but UConn led 32-26.
"I was really upset at halftime," said Diggins. "In the back of our minds or in the front of our minds were those three losses. I just wanted to make sure I stayed poised. I like to be the voice of calm, even though sometimes I was pretending. I was really nervous but they thought I was calm."
Notre Dame opened the second half on a 7-0 run, and with a healthy number of the 16,421 in attendance roaring "Let's Go, Irish," Novosel (who finished with 22 points, including 18 in the second half) hit a driving layup with 15:51 to cut the lead to 34-33. With the score tied at 38, UConn center Stefanie Dolson was whistled for her fourth foul with 14:00 left. Given UConn's thin bench, it was a monumental call. The Huskies were forced to use the 6-1 Moore on defense in the post and without Dolson, they became a jump shooting team. Diggins hit a jumper to give Notre Dame a 40-38 lead and though they would never relinquish the lead again, Moore kept coming. The Huskies cut the lead to 63-60 with 2:28 left on her fifth 3-pointer of the game, but Diggins sealed the victory less than a minute later when she picked the pocket of UConn guard Kelly Farris at midcourt and scored on a driving layup to up the lead 67-60. When Moore missed two of three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer with 1:18 left, UConn's championship run was over.
"I'm going to have to choose to remember the great things and really how fortunate I was to be able to be a part of so many record breaking seasons and games," said Moore. "It's just tough that this is the current taste in my mouth right now, but we'll deal with it."
Moore became the Huskies' alltime leading scorer in December and finished her career as one of only seven players in NCAA Division I women's basketball history to score at least 3,000 career points (She ranks fourth alltime with 3,036 career points). She scored in double figures in 149 of her 153 career games and ranks as the third leading scorer in the history of the NCAA Tournament with 397 points.
"You know, it's never easy when you don't win your last game because that's kind of the thing that you remember going out on," said Auriemma. "I know how difficult it is for Maya and for [Connecticut senior guard] Lorin [Dixon] ... What Maya and Lorin experienced in the two years between their loss in the Final Four and the loss tonight is something that I'm going to choose to focus on when I think about those two, especially Maya. I'm going to think more about the best player in the history of the Big East and maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball. I'm not going to let her be defined by what happened tonight."
Diggins now has her own defining moment and is 40 minutes away from leading her team to a title. The Irish ranked fourth in the nation in shooting percentage (.479) but had shot 35 percent in the first three games against the Huskies this season. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw spoke before the game on the importance of finishing, especially on high percentage shots. Her team responded by shooting 51.9 percent (27 of 52) from the field against UConn, and it was the smooth work of Diggins that put them in position to win.
"She played like an All-American tonight," said McGraw. "She did it all. She ran the team. She scored. She made good passes, good decisions and single-handedly kept us in the first half. We were trying to figure out a way to help her, and Natalie [Novosel] stepped up in the second half. She's an amazing talent. There's probably nothing she can't do when she puts her mind to it."