ND vs. UConn: the thrill ride continues
Within the course of a rivalry that has mattered more than any other to the popularity of women’s college basketball over the last decade, it’s the things that haven’t mattered that have made it mesmerizing and flat unpredictable.
Notre Dame and Connecticut, as they head into Sunday’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown at Purcell Pavilion, have exactly split their last 16 meetings.
Along the way, their rankings haven’t mattered at all.
The lower-rated team in the Associated Press poll has won eight of those last 16 meetings.
Home court? That’s mattered exactly as much as those rankings.
The teams have split 2-2 at Notre Dame, 3-3 at Connecticut and 3-3 at neutral sites over those last 16 meetings.
Then there’s the matter of the regular season vs. the NCAA Tournament season.
That’s not mattered, either.
Muffet McGraw’s Irish have gone 5-5 against Geno Auriemma’s Huskies in the regular season and 3-3 in the postseason.
In the interest of full disclosure, and in acknowledgement to UConn chest thumpers, there is certainly an arbitrary aspect to focusing on these last 16 meetings, which have taken place over parts of the last eight seasons.
For one thing, the first of the 16 was also the last of four meetings in 2010-11. The Huskies had swept the first three between the then-Big East counterparts that winter before the No. 9 Irish stunned top-rated UConn 72-63 in a national semifinal.
That was the game that put ND back on track in a rivalry that had largely derailed in terms of competitive balance with the Huskies winning 12 in a row over a six-year window.
The renewed Irish would go on to take six of eight meetings over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
Then the programs went their separate conference ways, not meeting at all during the 2013-14 regular season, before both bringing perfect marks into their 2014 national title game.
UConn captured that battle royale 79-58, in the process dominating the best ND team ever in terms of record.
It was the second of seven straight meetings that the Huskies would win — before the No. 5, injury-speckled Irish, of course, pulled off last season’s 91-89 national semifinal shocker over a UConn club that was a wire-to-wire unanimous No. 1 in both polls.
Admittedly, these last 16 meetings, besides yielding a cumulative draw, have featured far more streakiness than the constant back-and-forth that an 8-8 count implies.
There’s also the fact that the Huskies have four national titles over that time to ND’s one — although, who has the most recent one?
How ever it’s dissected, it’s been a thrill ride for women’s basketball fans to witness all the twists and turns — particularly the ones that have come just when it appears one program is certain to have its way.
Right now, a case can be made that ND is that team of certainty. The Irish are the unanimous No. 1. They are the team with four starters back from a national champion, plus an All-American in Brianna Turner who didn’t even play last season for that champion.
UConn, on the other hand, has lost three players to the WNBA off its squad of a year ago. The Huskies appear vulnerable — if only strictly by Huskie standards, and only if a pair of All-Americans still in the fold makes one vulnerable.
Though it does appear within this treasured rivalry that you can’t glean any hint of who might win from who’s at home, who’s ranked higher or what part of the season it is, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any indicators at our disposal.
For example, an overtime game? Notre Dame wouldn’t mind that, but only if history truly is an indicator. The Irish have gone 3-0 in OT against UConn over those last 16 meetings.
Whoever does win this one, it could be a good sign for their bottom line. That’s because the winning teams in 12 of those 16 meetings has ultimately finished with the better record.
On the other hand, there’s this — of the five seasons in our examined stretch that these programs have met in both the regular season and the postseason, the team that fared better head-to-head in the regular season is the same one that lost head-to-head three times in the postseason.
The bottom line: Sunday’s showdown will feel like everything, and settle nothing.
WHO: No. 2 Connecticut (6-0) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (7-0).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Sunday, 4 p.m.
TICKETS: Sold out.
RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).