Notre Dame women's basketball: Win should put Connecticut back in No. 1 spot
Irish coach Muffet McGraw took her team back to the locker room to avoid the thunderous introduction of the two-time defending national champ Connecticut women's basketball team.
UConn great Maya Moore to score until 5:30 remained in the first half.
But mighty Connecticut still had more than enough firepower to deny Notre Dame's women's basketball team in its attempt at an upset in one of college basketball's most hostile environments.
No. 2 Connecticut overcame a fast start by Notre Dame and pulled away for a 78-57 victory in Big East Conference action Saturday afternoon.
Not that UConn needed any extra incentive taking it to the Irish, but at the 7:25 mark of the second half, with Connecticut leading 63-44, the Huskies' student section started chanting, “Baylor lost.”
Top-ranked Baylor's 56-45 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday, combined with Connecticut's impressive showing against Notre Dame, will likely put the Huskies back on top of the rankings. UConn fell out of first place after its record 90-game winning streak was ended by Stanford on Dec. 30.
No. 8 Notre Dame (22-5, 11-2 Big East) doesn't get much rest before it steps into another hostile court. The Irish are at West Virginia on Tuesday (7 p.m. EST tip-off). UConn (26-1, 13-0) extended its homecourt winning streak to 76 games.
Bria Hartley stepped up to lead UConn with 29 points. Moore, shut down by the Irish in the first half, ended up with 12. Stephanie Dolson, who took away the Irish inside game, scored 15.
Skylar Diggins, wearing UConn defenders all over her jersey most of the day, scored 22 to lead the Irish. Diggins kept Notre Dame in the game early, unleashing a lethal pull-up jumper to tear in to the Huskies' defense for 17 points in the first half. Natalie Novosel scored 18.
“Skylar hit some pretty amazing shots in the first half,” McGraw said. “She carried us.”
Diggins' performance also impressed UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
“… Skylar Diggins seemed like she made every shot,” Auriemma said. “For somebody to have 17 on us in the first half …. (Skylar) has gotten a lot better. I don't know if she could have done what she did today against us (earlier this season), and certainly not last year. Last year she was a little overwhelmed, and now she looks like a different player.”
Diggins finished 8-of-18, worn down at the end by the UConn defense.
“Executing our offense,” is how Diggins explained her torrid first half. “My team did a good job of giving me the ball with ball screens. They did a good job of finding my defender.”
Notre Dame's inside game, hampered by foul trouble, only got 21 minutes out of Devereaux Peters and 31 minutes out of Becca Bruszewski. Peters, Bruszewski and Natalie Achonwa were a combined for 3-of-19 shooting. The 6-foot-5 Dolson dominated inside.
“We got the start we wanted,” McGraw said of her club taking a 9-2 lead. “We came out and played really well at the start. Then, we just got completely overwhelmed. Not having Becca and Devereaux hurt us a little bit early, but still, we were within striking distance at the half (37-29). Then, we just laid an egg in the second half.”
“Hartley had a great game,” McGraw continued. “She was somebody we were actually trying to guard. I was disappointed in the defense on her. She really shot the ball well. She had a great game on a night when Maya has almost human numbers. You hope you can win a game when Maya is human.”
Two key factors hurt the Irish in the first half. Notre Dame missed eight free throws in the first 20 minutes, including the front-end of a one-and-bonus. And Peters sat out the last 14:09 with two fouls. Peters, who entered the game averaging 11.2 points, ended up scoreless.
It was all UConn in the second half, as the Huskies opened up with a 16-4 run.
“I was just taking advantage of what the defense game me,” Hartley said. “If I had the open shot, I took it. If they came out on me, I made sure to drive by them.”