But trailing 26-25 with 3:44 left in the half, UConn started to take over. Bria Hartley, who has struggled all season while recovering from an ankle injury she suffered over the summer, was the spark. The junior guard started the spurt with a 3-pointer and added a nifty pull-up moments later to make it 32-26.
Diggins was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half as the Huskies harassed her all over the court. She scored the Irish's first two points on free throws and didn't have another point until getting a steal early in the second half and converting it for the easy layup to make it 42-35.
The two-time All-American tried to do everything she could to rally her team, twice chasing down Hartley on the break for a block, but her shots weren't falling and her team was falling behind.
UConn led 50-43 with 12:22 left before Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart hit back-to-back 3s to give the Huskies their biggest lead. Notre Dame wasn't done, with star freshman Jewell Loyd scoring five points during a 9-2 run to get the Irish within 61-55.
But that was as close as they could get.
Stewart was the most heralded freshman coming into the season, but struggled through the middle part of the year. But ever since the Big East tournament she's been on a roll.
"Every player, especially young players, deal with things differently," Auriemma said. "And I think when the season ended, it just let the air out of the balloon and she said, 'Now I just want to play basketball.' My God, she was amazing tonight."
Now Stewart and the rest of the Huskies will get ready for the Cardinals, who have beaten Baylor, Tennessee and Cal their last three games to make it to the championship.
But that can wait until after Monday night — when the Cardinals will watch the men's team try to win their own title.
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