Women's Basketball: Irish competitive, but No. 2 Connecticut too much Sunday

By Anthony Anderson
ND Insider

The merriment of a Notre-Dame-Connecticut women’s basketball matchup turned abruptly somber even for the victorious Huskies in the final minute Sunday.

For the visiting Irish, who were otherwise competitive, it trended somber throughout the final quarter, with No. 24 ND falling 73-54 to No. 2 UConn.

► One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season

Dec 5, 2021; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers (5) defends against Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Anaya Peoples (21) in the first half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Huskie sophomore Paige Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, suffered a non-contact injury while bringing the ball up the court in the closing minute.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the game that the injury was to Bueckers’ left knee, that she would undergo an MRI, and that he would know more on Monday.

Dec 5, 2021; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers (5) drives the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Madelyn Westbeld (34) in the first half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Playing just like her credentials read, Bueckers torched Notre Dame all afternoon with game highs of 22 points, five steals and three drawn charges to go with four assists.

The Huskies (5-1) led just 51-44 through three periods, but outscored the Irish 13-0 over the first 3:49 of the fourth quarter to seize control at 64-44.

Dec 5, 2021; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa (20) works for the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maya Dodson (0) in the first half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UConn freshman Caroline Ducharme — who entered with four points all season — scored 14 in the fourth quarter against ND, four more than the Irish had as a team.

For Notre Dame (7-2), freshman Sonia Citron netted 19 points off the bench in the encore to her 29 on Thursday at Michigan State, but no other player reached double figures.

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► After the Irish outscored UConn 19-16 in the third quarter to cut their 10-point halftime deficit to seven, they were no match for the Huskies during the money quarter, getting outpointed 22-10.

“We combatted them and came back,” coach Niele Ivey said of ND fighting off deficits that reached 12 points on three occasions in the third period, “but kind of fell apart in the (fourth). … They really capitalized on our mistakes. I thought that was the difference in the fourth quarter, and I thought our offense got kind of tight when they went on their run.”

In part, “that’s just a credit to UConn,” Ivey said. “That’s a really great team.”

In part, it was also attributable to ND’s “focus” and “discipline” each slipping, per the coach.

“I definitely think we’ve grown in that area from last year,” Ivey said of her team’s fourth-quarter play this season, “but it’s also an area that was exposed a little bit today, but I think we’re gonna fix it.”

Notre Dame finished at 16 turnovers to 21 by Connecticut, yet in the fourth quarter, the hosts coughed up just one while the visitors committed four.

► The Huskies brutalized the Irish 18-4 in second-chance points, including 14-0 during the first half, and finished with a 45-32 rebounding advantage against a club that had been outrebounded just once this season.

“We gotta compete harder, we gotta do more,” Ivey said. “I’m probably going to be working a lot on rebounding the next couple weeks.”

Specifically, ND’s inside players have to “do better,” Ivey said. “I’m going to challenge them.”

Keyed by forwards Olivia Nelson-Ododa (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Aaliyah Edwards (10 points), Connecticut finished with a 28-16 edge in paint points.

“UConn’s been going through their guard play and today they went through the post,” Ivey said. “(Edwards and Nelson-Ododa) were just dominant inside. They really bothered us. They played extremely hard, really competed down low, so it’s something for our posts and our team. We have to work on being more physical inside.”

► Bueckers was the indisputable maestro of the court before going down.

“She had a tremendous game,” Ivey said of Bueckers, who last season became the first freshman ever to win Naismith Player of the Year honors. “She’s one of those players that can just dominate the game. She scores at ease. She continues to get better.”

Dec 5, 2021; Storrs, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies forward Dorka Juhasz (14) drives the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Anaya Peoples (21) in the first half at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Ivey conferred with Bueckers for a couple moments after the game.

“I just asked how she was doing and said I was going to pray for her,” Ivey shared of her exchange with somebody she had tried to recruit to ND.

Who's hot?

Citron stayed so for the Irish. Her 19-point follow-up to her 29 on Thursday included 5-of-12 from the field with a pair of 3s and 7-of-8 at the line.

She’s 14-of-24 from the field, 5-of-9 on triples and 15-of-16 at the stripe over her last two games.

Despite those two showings — plus ACC Freshman of the Week honors twice already before that — Ivey said she’ll continue to bring Citron off the bench.

“I like her energy coming off the bench, and she’s somebody that doesn’t care about that,” Ivey said, “so I’m just going to stick with the course.”

Who's not

Maddy Westbeld and Maya Dodson, ND’s two starting forwards, made just 4-of-20 from the field combined.

Westbeld hit 2-of-9 and closed at a season-low seven points, less than half her average going in, while Dodson finished 2-of-11 on her way to six points.

Worth noting

ND point guard Olivia Miles played Crazy Eights with eight points, a game-high eight assists and a team-high eight rebounds.

Up next

The Irish wrap up five straight games away from home by facing the Division I program that is nearest home when they visit Valparaiso on Wednesday. Tip is at 7 p.m.

It’s ND’s first matchup against Valpo since a 114-54 Irish win in December 2016, and first on the road since a 110-54 win in November 2015.

NO. 2 UCONN 73, No. 24 NOTRE DAME 54

NOTRE DAME (7-2): Dodson 2-11 2-4 6, Westbeld 2-9 3-4 7, Mabrey 3-6 0-0 9, Miles 4-10 0-1 8, Peoples 0-3 0-0 0, Brunelle 2-6 0-0 5, Citron 5-12 7-8 19, Prohaska 0-1 0-0 0, Marshall 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 18-58 12-17 54

UCONN (5-1): Edwards 4-7 2-2 10, Nelson-Ododa 5-7 4-6 14, Bueckers 9-17 1-2 22, Westbrook 1-6 0-0 3, Williams 2-8 0-0 4, Juhasz 0-3 0-0 0, Muhl 2-4 0-0 6, Ducharme 5-9 1-2 14, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 28-61 8-12 73

Notre Dame 12 | 13 | 19 | 10 — 54

UConn 16 | 19 | 16 | 22 — 73

3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 6-17 (Westbeld 0-1, Mabrey 3-5, Miles 0-2, Brunelle 1-4, Citron 2-5), UConn 9-23 (Bueckers 3-7, Westbrook 1-4, Williams 0-3, Muhl 2-4, Ducharme 3-5). Assists—Notre Dame 12 (Miles 8), UConn 17 (Williams 6). Fouled Out—UConn Nelson-Ododa. Rebounds—Notre Dame 32 (Citron 3-5), UConn 45 (Nelson-Ododa 5-13). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 16, UConn 18. Technical Fouls—None. A—10,167.