Analysis: UConn 45, Notre Dame 38

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- UConn leads Notre Dame 45-38 at halftime of the women's NCAA championship game. A look at how the first half went down:

How the half was won: Notre Dame owned the paint against Maryland in the semifinals. But in the first half Tuesday, Natalie Achonwa's absence was glaring early on. Just 39 seconds into the first half, Breanna Stewart tipped in her own miss. The Huskies went on to score 18 of their first 20 points in the lane.

Player of the half: UConn's Stewart. The slow starts that have plagued the espnW.com and AP Player of the Year were a thing of the past in the first half. Stewart came out blazing, getting loose inside and taking advantage of UConn's distinct size advantage. She scored eight of the Huskies' first 14 points, all at the rim, and finished the half with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and five rebounds. Stewart had two field goals in the first half against Stanford in the semifinals.

Player of the half II: Stefanie Dolson. She missed just one shot in the half -- a late 3-point attempt -- and finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and six rebounds. Dolson's biggest contribution, however, might have been her five assists, with Stewart often the beneficiary.

Turning point: Notre Dame took an 8-6 lead with 15:37 left on a Kayla McBride layup off a break. UConn scored the next 16 points, pounding it inside for each of the eight buckets. No shots were taken outside of 3 feet in that span. The run wasn't broken until a Jewell Loyd layup with 10:48 remaining and UConn in control.

Key stat: Nothing indicates how many good looks the Huskies were getting more than the fact that they shot 19-of-29 on 2-point field goal attempts. UConn's overall 57 percent shooting would have been even better had the Huskies not struggled a bit from 3-point range, where they were 2-for-8. It hasn't caught up to them yet.

Three things Connecticut has to do to win:
1. Keep feeding it inside. Notre Dame has no answer for Stewart and Dolson, who combined to shoot 12-for-16. All but Dolson's jumper to open the game were from point-blank range.
2. Limit Notre Dame's 3-pointers. Geno Auriemma yelled to his assistants about it for much of the final eight minutes of the half. The Irish got back into the game only by making 5 for 8 from deep, most coming in the later stages of the half.
3. Get Bria Hartley going. She's the one Huskies player who's not providing much offensively. If she makes a few jumpers, UConn's once struggling offense will truly be clicking on all cylinders.

Three things Notre Dame has to do to win
1. Tighten up the interior defense. If UConn is able to score another 32 points in the paint in the second half, the Irish will have to shoot the lights out to stay in the game.
2. Finish. Taya Reimer, Markisha Wright and Ariel Braker are struggling to complete plays. They are a combined 1-for-6 from the floor, all from close range. Most were lost opportunities for the Irish. Achonwa has definitely been missed here as well.
3. Keep attacking. As the half wore on, the Irish began to shoot the ball better. Michaela Mabrey was a huge boost off the bench with 10 points in 11 minutes. She wasn't afraid to shoot. It isn't so much that the Irish need to get to the rim. They need to be aggressive, but at the same time, take smart shots.

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