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Still beast of the East: UConn knocks off Irish

Mar 7, 2012 - 2:52 AM Hartford, CT (Sports Network) - To be the best, you have to beat the best.

And in the Big East, Connecticut is still the best.

The fourth-ranked Huskies, spurred by 19 points from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and 18 from Bria Hartley, captured its fifth straight Big East Tournament title with a 63-54 victory over third-ranked Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish (30-3) had swept the regular season series from the Huskies and were looking for their first Big East tourney crown in Tuesday's finale.

But UConn (29-4), wearing its dark jerseys as the No. 3 seed, played like the favorites, holding the regular season champs to 32 percent shooting.

Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma registered career win No. 800, reaching the mark in 928 games -- 30 less than rival Pat Summitt accomplished the feat.

Notre Dame's top two scorers coming in, Natalie Novosel and Skylar Diggins, combined to shoot 9-of-32 (28 percent) from the field. Diggins finished with 16 points, eight coming in the final two minutes with the outcome already decided, while Kayla McBride chipped in 13 points in defeat.

The Huskies, with a rowdy XL Center cheering them on, led by as many as 10 in the first half, as a Lewis jumper resulted in a 27-17 cushion just past the midway point.

The Irish responded with a 13-4 spurt over the final eight minutes, pulling within 31-30 on Kaila Turner's three-pointer just before the break. They scored six straight points to go in front, 36-33, four minutes into the second half, but the Huskies took over from there.

During the ensuing 10-1 run, Hartley made a pair of mid-range jumpers before picking off a lazy Diggins pass and going in for a layup and a 43-37 lead with 12 minutes to play.

A McBride three-pointer cut the gap to 46-43 three minutes later, but the Irish made just one field goal over the next seven minutes. Kelly Faris drained a three-pointer to complete the game-sealing 9-3 run.

Since the 1993-94 season, the Huskies have earned the Big East regular season title and/or the tournament title each year. This was the program's 18th Big East tourney title.

The Irish have lost all six of its Big East title games, each time falling to Connecticut.