Women's roundup: Notre Dame, UConn advance to final
Tampa, Fla. — Notre Dame is heading back to the women's national championship game thanks to a timely putback from an unlikely source.
Madison Cable's only basket of the game lifted Notre Dame to a 66-65 victory over Final Four newcomer South Carolina in the national semifinals on Sunday night.
All-American Jewell Loyd scored 22 points as the Irish (36-2) advanced to the NCAA championship game for the fourth time in five years, surviving a scoring drought that lasted more than seven minutes down the stretch.
"We didn't rebound, missed a bunch of shots," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "Just a great basketball game. We went to Jewell. She had to do everything. Everyone contributed."
The Irish have not been able to win it all since McGraw led them to their only national title in 2001.
Loyd said no one boxed out Cable on her winning basket, adding: "She's done it all year. She's the MVP."
South Carolina (34-3) overcame a 12-point, first-half deficit and did it again in the closing minutes. The feisty Gamecocks used a 13-0 run to take their only lead on Aleighsa Welch's offensive stickback with 1:12 remaining.
Brianna Turner scored 17 before fouling out and Taya Reimer 16 for Notre Dame.
Freshman A'ja Wilson came off the bench to lead South Carolina with 20 points. She scored 10 straight for the Gamecocks at one point in the second half to keep her resilient team within striking distance.
Notre Dame led 64-52 with 7:51 to go. The Irish missed eight straight shots before Coates wiped out South Carolina's short-lived lead. South Carolina All-American Tiffany Mitchell's off-balance 3-point attempt bounced high off the backboard as time ran out on the best season in school history.
Notre Dame lost to Connecticut in a matchup of unbeaten teams in last year's title game. The Irish came up short against Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor in 2012.
"It's surreal right now, can't believe that we're here," Loyd said of advancing to Tuesday night's title game. "Glad we played the early game and can get some rest."
South Carolina looked like a Final Four newcomer early, falling behind 15-3 in the first five minutes of the game.
The Gamecocks settling and getting a pair of layups from Alaina Coates during a 12-4 surge that helped them get back in the game.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has spent the past seven seasons transforming South Carolina from a struggling program into a national contender that spent much of this season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Staley, a former Virginia star who participated in the national semifinals three times as a player, joined Kim Mulkey as the only women to play and coach in the Final Four, and she drew on personal experience to try to prepare her team for what encounter during its trip.
The Gamecocks began to solve the multiple defensive looks Notre Dame threw at them, with Coates inflicting damage inside and Mitchell and Bianca Cuevas picking up the pace of the game once Irish guard Lindsay Allen left the game with two fouls. Wilson's jumper trimmed South Carolina deficit to 25-24, but Notre Dame wouldn't crack.
Loyd delivered a three-point play during a quick seven-point spurt that helped the Irish stay in front 32-28 at halftime, then made a difficult jumper over Mitchell while drawing a foul during the 10-0 burst Notre Dame put together after Coates missed two free throws, either of which would have given South Carolina its first lead.
Coates finished with 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
UConn 81, Maryland 58: Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have UConn back in the championship game for the third straight year. Now the Huskies are one victory away from a third straight title.
Stewart scored 25 points and Tuck added 24 to lead UConn.
UConn will face Notre Dame for the title on Tuesday night in a rematch of last season's championship game.
The Huskies have won nine titles overall and a victory over the Irish would tie Geno Auriemma with vaunted UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all-time with 10. It would also be the second three-peat for UConn, which won three straight championships from 2002-04.
Making the Final Four seems like a rite of spring for the Huskies (37-1) lately as the team has appeared in the last eight national semifinals.
UConn had cruised through the NCAA Tournament, but Maryland coach Brenda Frese said her team wouldn't be intimidated by the Huskies.
The Terrapins took it right at them from the start, hanging with UConn for the first 10 minutes. Maryland only trailed 22-19 before UConn scored seven straight points capped by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-pointer that made it a 10-point game. Maryland (34-3) didn't back down getting back and pulled within 39-33 on Lexie Brown's 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the half.
Then Tuck took over.
She scored the final five points of the half to give the Huskies a double-digit advantage going into the break.
Tuck missed last season's championship run while she was recovering from microfracture surgery on her right knee that allowed her to only play in eight games. The redshirt sophomore made her presence felt on the game's biggest stage, finishing just two points short of her career high.
She started the second half with another 3 as UConn scored the first nine points to break the game open. Her layup capped the burst and gave UConn a 53-33 advantage. The Terrapins could only get within 14 the rest of the way as Stewart and Tuck answered every Maryland run.
Stewart, who was the Associated Press Player of the Year for the second straight season, added eight rebounds.
The loss ended a school-record 28-game winning streak for Maryland, which hasn't won in its four meetings with the Huskies.
Brionna Jones scored 14 points and Lexie Brown added 12 to lead the Terrapins, who cruised through the Big Ten in their inaugural season in the conference going undefeated.
Brown had some extra support at the game as her father, former NBA slam dunk champion, Dee Brown was in attendance. He is an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings and was able to skip their game Sunday and see his daughter play for the first time this season.
He was sitting near former Celtics teammate Pervis Ellison, whose daughter Aja also plays for the Terrapins. Former NFL star Donovan McNabb was also in the crowd cheering on his niece Kia Nurse, who is a freshman at UConn.
The former athletes weren't the only stars at the game. Three-time Academy Award nominee Tom Cruise was sitting in a suite, though it wasn't clear who he was rooting for.
At Tampa, Fla.
Notre Dame 66, South Carolina 65
UConn 81, Maryland 58
Notre Dame (36-2) vs. UConn (37-1), 8:30 p.m.