Connecticut turns rematch with Notre Dame into mismatch
Some of the differences between what happened eight months ago in the national semifinal and what happened in the rematch Sunday stood out more glaringly than those green glow sticks the sold-out crowd was waving around Purcell Pavilion.
Eight months ago, Arike Ogunbowale was winning a 91-89 shootout a second ahead of the overtime buzzer.
Sunday, the Notre Dame star was losing her composure as No. 2 Connecticut put the finishing touches on an 89-71 women’s basketball dismantling of the top-ranked Irish.
Also eight months ago, Christyn Williams was still in high school.
Sunday, she was the star for the Huskies as they avenged their stunning loss to the Irish.
“I would’ve thrown (the ball) to her last year, but she wasn’t around,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his newest potential superstar, a fearless, 5-foot-11, power-driving guard who scored 28 points and hit 11-of-16 shots, including two 3-pointers.
While Williams was dazzling even her own coach, Ogunbowale was engaging the Huskies’ boss in another manner.
With 4:25 to go and ND trailing 77-66, Ogunbowale was called for a technical foul.
“He said some words and I fed right into it and said something back,” Ogunbowale said of what occurred. “As a senior leader, I have to keep my composure at times like that.”
“Not necessarily,” Auriemma said of whether the exchange was significant. “I was just making comments about stuff that was going on out there.”
Stuff wasn’t done going on out there.
At 1:43 remaining and the count 87-70, Ogunbowale was called for an unsportsmanlike foul.
“I think we played right into what they wanted,” Ogunbowale said, calmly and matter of factly answering tough questions. “They baited us a lot and we lost our poise. As seniors and leaders of this team, we can’t let that happen.”
Before the game spiraled out of control for the Irish (7-1) in the fourth quarter, it was a tight contest much of the way, though the only lead ND ever did have was 2-0.
“I thought our transition defense was poor, I thought our half-court defense was poor, I thought our execution was poor, and then we lost our poise, and that was unexpected,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I was really disappointed to see the veterans that we have not rise to the occasion. We’re a better team than we showed.’’
McGraw called Williams “phenomenal. I thought she played just an incredible game and really was the difference in the game.”
The No. 1-rated player in her class by ESPN, Williams went into Sunday averaging 10.8 points for the Huskies (7-0) over her first six collegiate starts, but poured in 16 in the first quarter alone and hit her first seven shots.
“This is the worst she’s ever gonna be,” Auriemma said with a gleam in his eye of Williams. “Right? She’s a freshman. Wait til she learns some of our plays.”
While Williams was going off early, UConn All-American Katie Lou Samuelson was held scoreless in the opening half, but then scored 15 after the break to go with six assists.
Fellow senior Napheesa Collier finished with 16 points and led all rebounders with 15.
“We wanted it bad, as I think you can tell,” Williams said.
She said she mostly wanted it for her older teammates.
“They don’t even talk about it, that’s how devastated they were,” Williams said of UConn’s veterans and their Final Four loss to the Irish that spoiled an unbeaten season. “We wanted to win this game for them, because we know how devastated they were. For us to do this today is a big deal.”
Jackie Young led Notre Dame with 18 points, but was just 6-of-10 at the line.
Ogunbowale added 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but was just 6-of-18 from the field.
The Irish trailed 44-41 at halftime and 65-59 through three quarters before being outscored 24-12 in the fourth.
ND made just 10-of-34 field goals in the second half after hitting 17-of-33 in the first.
“Our game plan was to get the ball inside,” McGraw said, “(but) Bri (Turner) only got seven shots. I thought we had an advantage inside and weren’t able to have the discipline to execute. I thought she was open, but we didn’t get her the ball.”
Turner closed with 10 points on 4-of-7 from the field and 2-of-4 at the line. She added a season-high four blocked shots.
Fellow post player Jessica Shepard had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Point guard Marina Mabrey, in her third game back from an injury, netted 11 points in a season-high 39 minutes, but was just 4-of-13 from the field, including 1-of-6 outside the arc.
“(Notre Dame) got as many open shots today as they did in (the Final Four game),” Auriemma said. “I don’t think the number of open shots they got was any different. They missed a lot of easy shots, and so did we. Probably those shot won’t be missed in two months. It’s early for them, too.”
Though his team this season is decidedly younger collectively than last season’s, Auriemma said the Huskies were a more composed group this time around.
“Last year, everybody was panicked,” Auriemma said. “This year, this particular game, everybody looked around and everybody was calm. There was nobody we had to calm down. That kind of surprised us.”
While the rebounding and turnover numbers were close to even Sunday, UConn proved more opportunistic. The Huskies outscored the the Irish 17-10 on second-chance points and 11-3 off turnovers.
Young was resolute about ND getting better.
“I just think from now on we’re just gonna take more pride in our defense, really play hard every possession,” said the junior who poured in a career-high 32 points in the Final Four against UConn. “It starts tomorrow. We have a lot of things we have to fix. We just have to come in focused and ready to get the job done.”
Notre Dame had its 28-game home winning streak snapped. The Irish dropped to 97-3 in their last 100 home games — 1-3 against the Huskies and 96-0 against everybody else.
Connecticut won its 122nd straight regular-season game, its last such loss coming in November 2014.
UCONN 89, NOTRE DAME 71
UCONN (7-0): Collier 7-13 2-2 16, Walker 5-10 1-2 12, Dangerfield 4-15 4-4 13, Samuelson 5-16 5-5 15, Williams 11-16 4-5 28, Nelson-Ododa 2-5 1-2 5, Totals 34-75 17-20 89.
NOTRE DAME (7-1): Shepard 6-13 1-2 13, Turner 4-7 2-4 10, Mabrey 4-13 2-2 11, Ogunbowale 6-18 5-6 17, Young 6-14 6-10 18, Patterson 1-2 0-0 2, Vaughn 0-0 0-0 0, Prohaska 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-67 16-24 71.<
3-Point Goals—UConn 4-17 (Walker 1-3, Dangerfield 1-6, Samuelson 0-4, Williams 2-4), Notre Dame 1-12 (Mabrey 1-6, Ogunbowale 0-6). Assists—UConn 16 (Samuelson 6), Notre Dame 10 (Ogunbowale 5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—UConn 46 (Collier 15), Notre Dame 41 (Ogunbowale 10). Total Fouls—UConn 18, Notre Dame 18. Technical Fouls—Notre Dame Ogunbowale 1.A—9,149.