NEW ORLEANS - Freshman forward Breanna Stewart, continuing to play her best basketball in the NCAA Tournament, scored a career-high 29 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Bria Hartley added 16 each to power Connecticut to an 83-65 victory over Notre Dame Sunday night in the women's national semifinals at the New Orleans Arena.
Connecticut, which has won seven national championships since 1995, will play surprising No. 5 seed Louisville Tuesday night in an all-Big East battle for the NCAA title. Louisville eliminated California 64-57 in its national semifinal game. Connecticut defeated Louisville 72-58 at home on Jan. 15.
Connecticut (34-4) had lost seven of its previous eight games against Notre Dame, including the national semifinals in 2011 and 2012. But the Huskies used a smothering defense against All-American point guard Skylar Diggins, who went 3 of 15 from the field and finished with 10 points, far below her 17.3 season average.
The Irish (35-2), who had won 30 consecutive games, lost for the first time since falling to Baylor 73-61 in December. They made just 22 of 74 shots from the field for the game, 29.7 percent.
Notre Dame cut into Connecticut's 10-point halftime lead and trailed 49-41 with 14 minutes left. But the Irish then went four consecutive possessions without a score, and the Huskies pulled away with consecutive 3-pointers by Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart.
The victory was especially sweet for Connecticut. Three of the Huskies' seven losses to Notre Dame had come in overtime.
The Huskies used a 14-3 spurt in the final 2:50 of the first half to build a 39-29 halftime lead. The catalyst was Hartley, who connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing to start the spurt and then hit an elbow jumper.
Stewart led the Huskies with 12 first-half points, including a 3-pointer from the right baseline during the late charge.
Kelly Faris picked the pocket of Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride near halfcourt and dribbled the rest of the way for a layup. Faris also made a strong driving layup in the final seconds.
Notre Dame opened the game with frigid shooting, missing 24 of its first 29 shots (17.2 percent from the field) before making four of its last nine before halftime. The only thing that kept Notre Dame within striking distance was its free-throw shooting, as the Irish were 11-for-12 from the stripe in the first half.
Early on, UConn suffocated Diggins, holding the senior guard without a basket in six attempts and holding her to just two first-half points.
NOTES: UConn's run of six consecutive Final Four appearances is an NCAA record. The Huskies have appeared in 14 Final Fours since 1991. ... Connecticut has won seven national titles. ... The Irish were so cold in the first half that they went 8-for-22 from point-blank range in the first half.