SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)– A month into the season Connecticut doesn’t look quite as vulnerable as many people thought. Not after beating No. 2 Notre Dame. Not after winning its 83rd straight game.
Two days after narrowly earning the top-ranking in The Associated Press poll, the Huskies easily secured that title on the court with a comfortable 72-61 victory over the Fighting Irish on Wednesday night, their third straight victory over a ranked team.
Coach Geno Auriemma said the Huskies (8-0) wouldn’t know their winning streak stretched to more than two years if not for the media.
”I would think if this was the first time our program had ever been here, we’d be acting a little bit different. You don’t want to sound like you don’t appreciate it – but we did win 90 in a row,” Auriemma said.
Napheesa Collier scored 14 of her 20 points in the second half after playing just nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Gabby Williams had 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Katie Lou Samuelson added 18 points to pace the Huskies.
The Huskies trailed for about 2 minutes in late in the second quarter, but played with the lead most of the game as they controlled the inside, outscoring the Irish 42-30 in the paint and finishing with a 35-32 edge in rebounding.
”I was really disappointed in everything, execution, the inability to get the ball to Bri. Completely ineffective offensively,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Brianna Turner led the Irish (8-1) with 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Lindsay Allen added 11 points.
After Notre Dame tied it at 42 with just under 2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Huskies forced a pair of turnovers leading to layups by Samuelson and Williams. Collier added a pair of free throws to give Connecticut led 50-43 at the end of the third quarter.
”We knew they were going to hit us hard at times and we just had to hit back harder,” Williams said.
Auriemma said that stretch was the key.
”In that moment when it could have gone into the fourth quarter differently, I think it kept our confidence level high and may have put a damper on them,” he said.
The Huskies stretched it to 65-54 on a 3-point play by Samuelson with 3:06 left to put the game away.
Auriemma said he won’t get too excited about the victory.
”I know this is Dec. 7th and there’s a long way to go between now and the end of the season,” he said.
UConn: The Huskies have beaten five ranked teams, including No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Baylor, and have staked their claim as the clear No. 1.
Notre Dame: The Irish faced adversity for the first time this season and couldn’t respond as they struggled, going 3 of 14 on 3-pointers and making just 4 of 8 free throws. The Irish lost to the Huskies for a sixth straight time and have work to do if they hope to challenge Connecticut by the end of the season. No one on the roster has ever beaten the Huskies.
Two days after narrowly passing the Irish in the poll, the Huskies showed there is no doubt who deserves to be No. 1. The Irish lost to the Huskies by the same score as Baylor, so it could be a tossup as far as who is No. 2 next week.
TIP-INS: The game marked the 57th time the top-rated team in The Associated Press poll faced No. 2. The No. 1 team is 36-21. … The last time UConn was No. 1 and lost to a No. 2 was against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament semifinal in 2001, when the Irish rallied back after trailing by 16 points in the first half to beat the Huskies 90-75 en route to the national championship. … The Huskies have won 27 straight road games. The record is 30 straight set by UConn (2007-11) and matched by Notre Dame (2011-15). … The Huskies have won34 straight against ACC teams.
UConn: The Huskies stay on the road to play at Kansas State, ending a streak of three straight games against ranked teams. They then play No. 12 Ohio State in Storrs on Dec. 19.
Notre Dame: The Irish, who have played only one true road game, play six straight on the road starting Saturday at No. 16 DePaul. They are then off for finals until playing at Toledo on Dec. 18.