Huskies need late rally to stop Notre Dame
STORRS – If you saw this one coming you are a better man than me. Outrebounded, unable to defend with a semblance of effectiveness much of the time, getting beat to the ball and without Gabby Williams (migraines) for more than a half, UConn was plain and simple getting the Husky beat out of it by No. 3 Notre Dame Sunday afternoon in front of a packed house of 15,564 at the XL Center.
Down 12 points late in the second quarter, 11 in the fourth quarter and and 10 with 7:48 left to play, those who believed, well, maybe they had gotten stuck in the bathroom line and missed the second and third quarters. On the other hand, maybe they just knew more than the rest of us.
Instead of losing its first regular season game since dropping an overtime decision to Stanford, Nov. 17, 2014, the top-ranked Huskies turned the XL Center to one gigantic UConn frenzy with an 80-71 victory.
The Huskies suddenly found their normalcy with a stunning, 22-3, run down the stretch, a most memorable turnaround. Yeah, the Huskies know comeback too.
You can take the ending which UConn (7-0) surely will. But the Huskies weren’t fooled by the final seven or so minutes. The Jekyll and Hyde performance was front and center. Especially from the maestro.
“That’s probably indicative of the two teams that I’m coaching right now,” said coach Geno Auriemma. I’m coaching a team that’s capable of getting down a lot and giving up layups, second shots. We are that team we put ourselves in that situation because we played against a really good team and we’re missing a lot of things and we refuse to acknowledge it and it catches up with you like it did today.
And then there’s the other team that I coached. The team that played the fourth quarter and when it’s time to win the game made all the plays they needed to make to win the game. Things that happen like that fourth quarter remind us how good a team we can be. We can be that good, it’s good for us to learn that today.”
The “good” team also showed a come-back-characteristic that you wonder about from a team that is usually beating the opponent by a thousand or so. UConn only loses every 111 games or so and the last time the Huskies trailed by double digits in any game forget about late in the game was when Columbus was hitting up Ferdinand and Isabella for money to take a cruise to the Caribbean.
So how do you react? Very well, thank-you.
When Lili Thompson drained a three-pointer to put the Irish up, 68-58, with 7:48 to go perpetuating a trend of answering every UConn flirtation with a comeback and disdain for the atmosphere dagger, UConn looked done.
Looks are deceiving. And it was Kia Nurse and Azura Stevens had a big part in it all.
Nurse (13 points), who earlier had set the UConn record for consecutive three-pointers with 13, nailed another one from long range. A steal from Nepheesa Collier (15 points) led to a Stevens layup and the deficit was halved.
With the crowd in full roar, Stevens would add a pair of foul shots to cut the deficit to 68-65. After Marina Mabry missed a three-pointer, Crystal Dangerfield hit a 10-footer and suddenly it was a one-point game.
Stevens gave UConn its first lead since early in the second quarter, 69-68. Notre Dame responded with its final basket and points of the game when Arike Ogunbowale (19 points) hit a driving layup.
But the momentum had turned. Nurse found an opening for a layup and then followed it up with another layup with 3:01 for a 73-70 lead. After Jessica Shepard found only iron on a layup attempt, Nepheesa Collier converted a layup into a 75-70 lead.
Notre Dame shot 3-of-15 in the fourth quarter and was outscored 26-9.
“Defensively I thought we had some major lapses and offensively I didn’t think we executed as well as we could have, we could have played a little smarter,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw after watching her team lose to UConn for the seventh straight time. “We did a great job rebounding in the first half did not go a good job in the second half and there were several plays were we got a hand on it, tipped it around and they got layups. We just had a stretch of trouble and unfortunately it was the last five minutes.”
Stevens had 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, most of the damage coming with four fouls. Nurse had seven points and Megan Walker came off of the bench to grab a crucial five rebounds.
“Defensively we started attacking them more and not let them run and do what they wanted to do,” said Stevens. “Also, we kind of started controlling the boards a little bit better, not letting them get a lot of second chance shots so that really gave us some momentum and then when we started scoring it picked up from there.”
The Huskies started off all-right and led, 24-18, early in the second quarter. Then the bottom dropped out like somebody put a pin the XL Center balloon. Notre Dame went on a run seldom experienced by UConn, 24-6. At one point, the Irish ripped off 13 points in a row as UConn struggled with Mabry from the outside (21 points), the 6-foot-4 Shepard inside (10 points) and Ogunbowalke just was a massive presence and pest for the UConn defense.
It was a rare game with a normal ending for the Huskies. The Huskies trailed big, and needed something extra down the stretch. Rare. They won – normal.
The crowd was dancing. UConn? A little wary of this two-team thing. But the “good” team won the day.