Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme take a look at the key players, difference-makers and X factors behind Notre Dame's 72-63 victory over UConn Sunday in the national semifinals.
There's no getting around just how individually brilliant Skylar Diggins was in the biggest game of her life, but Sunday's second semifinal was not entirely a one-woman show. Although after 99 seconds in the first half, it didn't feel like Natalie Novosel was a likely candidate for supporting actress honors. Novosel picked up her second foul at the 16:51 mark of the first half, sending her to the bench for all but four minutes of the remainder of the half -- and even that was enough time for her to pick up her third foul on a questionable offensive foul call with less than a minute to play. But playing with three fouls from the outset in the second half, Novosel scored 18 second-half points. Maya Moore never got the helping hand she needed in this game (and still managed to almost bring her team back from a double-digit deficit). In a performance for the ages, Diggins did get that hand -- despite Novosel playing with one of them tied behind her back for much of the night.
UConn has successfully walked the tightrope of a lack of post depth much of this season after the graduation of Tina Charles, but it caught up a bit with the Huskies in the semifinal loss to Notre Dame. UConn really seemed to miss having one more strong rebounder -- Maya Moore led the way on the boards with eight, and guard Kelly Faris had seven -- as the Huskies were outrebounded 39-27. The Irish were led on the glass by posts Becca Bruszewski with eight and Devereaux Peters with seven.
Notre Dame's confidence made the difference. Perhaps it was the fact that the Irish were so familiar with UConn or that they came so close back in January in South Bend, Ind., but Notre Dame looked like it knew what it was doing at every moment. The execution was even better. Diggins got the Irish off to a steady start in the first half with 12 of the club's first 18 points and Novosel was deadly after halftime. Each seemed so sure of what to do and was never scared by the moment or the Huskies. Most importantly, while leading, Notre Dame never went into the shell that so many teams who aren't supposed to beat the Huskies hit when the opportunity was there for an upset (see: Georgetown, regional semis). Notre Dame took it to Connecticut right to the final horn.