NEW ORLEANS — Breanna Stewart put on quite a show to help UConn finally vanquish Notre Dame.
The stellar freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks, leading the Huskies to the national championship game with an 83-65 win over Notre Dame Sunday night.
The Huskies will face Louisville in the championship game on Tuesday night in an all-Big East final after the Cardinals rallied to beat California, 64-57, in the other NCAA semifinal. UConn will be going for its eighth national championship to match Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball history.
No team has dominated Geno Auriemma’s Huskies the way that the Irish had over the past few seasons.
UConn (34-4) had lost the previous two national semifinals to the Irish and dropped three thrilling games this season to their rival.
Stewart and her teammates wouldn’t let it happen again, ending the brilliant career of Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins. She finished her last college game with 10 points, going a dismal 3 for 15 from the field.
‘‘Once you get here you’re only gonna beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they’re really, really good,’’ Auriemma said. ‘‘For one night, that’s what’s great about the NCAA Tournament, for one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were.’’
The Huskies built a 10-point halftime lead playing incredible defense and Notre Dame (35-2) could only get within 6 in the second half as its school record 30-game winning streak came to an end.
This game might have been the final chapter between the programs with Notre Dame headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. The Irish had won a school-record 30 straight games, with the only other loss coming against Baylor in early December.
With the teams so familiar with each other, getting easy baskets was virtually impossible. Notre Dame went nearly 7½ minutes without a field goal, missing 14 consecutive shots.
While UConn would usually knock out most opponents during a scoreless stretch like that, the Huskies couldn’t take advantage against the Irish, scoring only 4 points themselves.
Neither team led by more than 4 points for the first 16 minutes. But trailing, 26-25, with 3:44 left in the half, UConn took over.
Junior guard Bria Hartley started the spurt with a 3-pointer and added a nifty pull-up jumper moments later to make it 32-26.
After Notre Dame pulled within 4, Morgan Tuck put back a miss and Stewart hit a 3-pointer. A Kelly Faris layup with 3.9 seconds left capped the burst and made it 39-29 at the break.
UConn led, 50-43, with 12:22 left before Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart hit back-to-back threes to give the Huskies their biggest lead of the game.
Notre Dame wasn’t done, their star freshman Jewell Loyd scoring 5 points during a 9-2 run to get the Irish within 61-55. That was as close as Notre Dame would get as Stewart and UConn scored the next 7 points.
The loss ended an incredible season for Notre Dame and left Diggins without a national championship. The star guard had accomplished nearly everything else in her stellar career at the school, including helping her Irish turn around their rivalry against the Huskies.
Diggins 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.’’