NEW ORLEANS With all the incredible players he has coached at Connecticut, Geno Auriemma couldn't remember a better effort than the one Breanna Stewart gave against Notre Dame.
The freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks Sunday night in leading the Huskies back to the national championship game with an 83-65 win.
"Given the stage and what was at stake, I don't know that I've seen any bigger performance," Auriemma said.
The Huskies face Louisville on Tuesday as they seek their eighth national title.
Stewart was the nation's most heralded freshman entering the season, but she struggled through the middle part of the year.
Since the Big East Conference tournament, though, she has elevated her game, and she was named Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Regional.
"I think when the (regular) season ended, it just let the air out of the balloon, and she said, 'Now I just want to play basketball,' " Auriemma said.
No team had dominated the Huskies the way the Irish had the past few seasons. Notre Dame eliminated Connecticut in the national semifinals the previous two seasons and was 3-0 against the Huskies this season.
But Connecticut wouldn't let it happen again, ending Skylar Diggins' career. The two-time All-American had only 10 points.
Connecticut (34-4) led 39-29 at halftime. Notre Dame (35-2) came only as close as six points in the second half as its school-record 30-game winning streak ended.
Diggins, who leaves without a national championship, said she spoke with Auriemma after the loss.
"Don't let this define my career," she said he told her, and that "I've done more for women's basketball than some people have done who have won four championships."
"He just told me I was a good player," she said. "You respect that coming from such a good coach."