HARTFORD, Conn. — Skylar Diggins cut the final strand off the net and twirled it around. Finally, Notre Dame had its first Big East tournament championship.
Six times the Irish women had played Connecticut in the tournament title game and had fallen in each one, including the previous two. Now in the final Big East title game, the Irish were champions.
"It's special because it's the last one," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We leave here champions and go home undefeated. To win it here makes it even better."
Natalie Achonwa's layup with 1.8 seconds left lifted No. 2 Notre Dame to a 61-59 victory over third-ranked UConn on Tuesday night.
Diggins stole an errant pass from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with eight seconds left and after dribbling through a few defenders found Achonwa for the uncontested lay-in.
Kelly Faris then heaved a desperation attempt from 65 feet that fell harmlessly off the backboard, setting off a wild celebration for the Irish, who have won 26 straight games.
"I've had a lot of big wins in my years here, wins against UConn to go to national championship games, it definitely is up there," Diggins said. "It means a lot not only to me, means a lot to coach and our program."
The Irish players, wearing championship hats and T-shirts, set up a dance line to celebrate and did an Irish jig in front of the school band.
"It's great for our program," Diggins said. "I'm excited for the team going into the NCAA Tournament. This is our coming of age."
Now with the Big East title, a national championship is the only thing missing from Diggins' impressive resume.
The Irish (31-1) weren't going to be denied in their final chance to win that elusive conference championship. Earlier in the day, Notre Dame announced it would be joining the ACC starting next season, a year earlier than expected.
Kayla McBride, named the tournament's most outstanding player, scored 23 to lead the Irish. Jewell Loyd finished with 16 and Diggins had 12.
Stefanie Dolson had 18 points and 14 rebounds, while Breanna Stewart had 16 points for UConn (29-4), which had won the past five Big East tournament titles but fell to Notre Dame for the third time this season.
The Huskies trailed 59-53 with 2:55 left before tying it at 59.
"At this point how I played isn't really in my mind," Dolson said. "We fought in the second half to tie it up … at the end of the day we didn't win."
They had a chance to take the lead but Faris missed a layup. She got her rebound and after calling a timeout, the Huskies had a chance before Mosqueda-Lewis got caught in the corner and threw the ball away to Diggins, setting up the finish.
The Irish have dominated the series recently with seven victories in the past eight meetings. No team has ever dominated the Huskies like that since UConn won its first national championship in 1995.
SUMMIT: Ashley Eide scored seven of her 10 in the final 5½ minutes, and top-seeded South Dakota State (25-7) beat South Dakota 56-53 in Sioux Falls, S.D., for its fifth straight tournament title.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Erik Buggs scored a career-high 22, Will Bogan added 14 and top-seeded Valparaiso (26-7) closed with an 18-4 run to rally past Wright State 62-54 in Valparaiso, Ind., and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
MEAC: Adrien Coleman scored 28 and Kevin Dukes added 22 as eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman (13-19) defeated Coppin State 89-78 in a first-round game in Norfolk, Va. Florida A&M (8-23), the 10th seed, fell to North Carolina A&T 65-54.
NORTHEAST: C.J. Garner scored a career-high 31 and third-seeded LIU Brooklyn (20-13) won its third straight conference tournament, 91-70 over Mount St. Mary's in New York.
SUMMIT: Nate Wolters scored 27 to lead top-seeded South Dakota State (25-9) past North Dakota State 73-67 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and win the conference tournament for the second straight year.
FIRINGS: Missouri-Kansas City fired coach Matt Brown after six seasons, and Siena fired coach Mitch Buonaguro after three.