DENVER — Even in a rebuilding season, Connecticut remained a serious title threat.
The young and pesky Huskies rallied to get the game into overtime Sunday night before Big East rival Notre Dame pulled away for an 83-75 victory in the NCAA women's semifinals.
For the second straight season, Connecticut had to watch the Irish celebrate a trip to the championship game as it trudged off the court in tears.
After a late comeback, UConn (33-5) unraveled in overtime as Brittany Mallory hit two clutch 3-pointers to help lift the Irish (35-3).
Coming into the game, the Huskies were highly motivated to settle a score after losing to the Irish 72-63 at the Final Four last year.
But with sophomore center Stefaine Dolson in foul trouble for a good portion of the second half and senior guard Tiffany Hayes largely held in check, the Huskies simply ran out of steam in overtime.
Still, they made a deep run in what was supposed to be a "mediocre" year.
Then again, this is what a down year looks like at Connecticut: 33 wins and a fifth straight trip to the Final Four.
It just may have been Geno Auriemma's best coaching job during his 27-year stint at the school.
The cupboard was far from bare, but after the departure of All-American Maya Moore, few believed UConn had the playmakers to make a run at an eighth national title.
So much for that notion.
There the Huskies were, close to toppling a foe they knew so well. It was the fourth time the Huskies and Irish met this season — Notre Dame won three of them.
They know each other's secrets and strategies, probably better than their own.
Although the Huskies will lose Hayes, they had quite a few budding stars rise up with the spotlight shining so bright. Dolson finished with 20 points despite drawing her fourth foul early in the second half, while sophomores Bria Hartley had 18 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis contributed 13.
For Notre Dame, with four starters back, nothing but a return to trip to the national championship game would suffice.
Hence, the Irish's mantra.
All season long, they were driven by a simple yet compelling credo: "Unfinished business."
The slogan stems from their 76-70 loss to Texas A&M in the title game last season.
Now, the Irish are back and will play the Stanford-Baylor winner Tuesday night.
But the semifinal win was far from easy.
It never is against Connecticut.
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