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Final Four: UConn Women’s Basketball Falls to Notre Dame, 81-76

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The Huskies’ season ends with another heartbreaker.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In the nightcap of the national semifinals in Tampa, Florida, UConn women’s basketball fell to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 81-76. It’s the second straight year the Irish have defeated the Huskies in the Final Four.

UConn led by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter but let the championship berth slip away. With three minutes remaining, the Huskies led by one. The two teams traded the lead over the next four possessions before Notre Dame went on a 9-0 run that decided the game.

The loss marks the end of the spectacular careers of Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, who finish as the highest scoring classmates in women’s college basketball history.

Notre Dame opened the game up 4-2 before UConn responded with an 11-0 run. The Fighting Irish couldn’t find the basket early, making just two of their first 15 shots. The Huskies could only marginally take advantage, leading by four after the first quarter.

Notre Dame took control at the start of the second quarter as Jessica Shepard went on an 8-0 run by herself to put them up four. Olivia Nelson-Ododa checked into the game for UConn, which spurred a short 6-0 run that put the Huskies back in the lead. From there, the two teams traded baskets and the lead for the remainder of the half, with Christyn Williams putting UConn up 30-29 on a buzzer-beating three.

Neither offense found much of a groove in the first 20 minutes. Crystal Dangerfield and Katie Lou Samuelson only scored a combined two points while Notre Dame made just one three-pointer and UConn only hit two.

Both offenses woke up in the second half. UConn got plenty of open looks from three and fired away but couldn’t get them to fall. Samuelson finally started to find her stroke from three late in the third quarter, hitting a pair of threes and drawing a foul from beyond the arc just period ran out. It seemed like UConn was going to get the spark it needed.

Once the fourth quarter began, UConn’s three-point looks finally began to fall. Williams hit a big three followed by an incredible step-back three from Samuelson. Collier found the basket on the break to put UConn up nine before Jackie Young snapped the Huskies’ run with a three-pointer to bring the gap back to six.

Soon thereafter, Notre Dame scored eight-straight points to re-take the lead at 68-66 with 3:30 remaining. From there, the game went back and forth before the Fighting Irish eventually came away with the win.

Notre Dame will go on to play Baylor in Sunday night’s national championship game. UConn says goodbye to Samuelson and Collier, two outstanding players and personalities to have on the team. Their senior season ends with a 35-3 record and three straight Final Four exits, and they’re both likely to be high first-round picks in the upcoming WNBA Draft.