By:Marvin Chambers:|4.0 Sports Media
XL Center-With UConn All American forward Gabby Williams sitting on the bench in the second half who thought UConn would beat undefeated and #3 ranked Notre Dame playing solid basketball in the last few weeks.
In front of a sold-out crowd of 15,564 at the XL Center No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team toughed it out in the fourth quarter to slipped past No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 80-71.
The Huskies are 36-11 all-time against the Irish, and have won six-straight games in the series by an average of 14.7 points per game.
The comeback was orchestrated by Azura Stevens and even more impressively, UConn did so without Katie Lou Samuelson—who left with an injury—and Gabby Williams—who was benched for the entire second half.
Down by 11 points in the fourth quarter with 9:34 left in the game the Huskies found themselves in unfamilair territory having both All-Americans on the bench Gabby Williams( Migraines) Katie-Lou Samuelson (Ankle).
UConn remained calm ran high ball screens and slips for redshirt junior Azura Stevens in the fourth quarter and single-handedly brought Huskies back scoring 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The Huskies’ defense clamped down in the fourth quarter, holding the Irish without a field goal for the final 4:11 while allowing just nine points.
“We didn’t panic in the fourth quarter with more than seven minutes later in the fourth there is still a lot of basketball left to play. We ran more stuff for Z and she made plays for us in the paint. Defensively we made some adjustments and the shots that was going in for them was rimming out over our zone defense.” UConn Kia Nurse said.
At the start of the game the two evenly matched teams took each other best punches. The Huskies took a narrow lead 22-18 but Connecticut had a difficult time slowing down Irish guard Marina Mabrey leading the quarter with 8 points, 2 assits and forward Jessica Shepard chipped in 6 points and 4 rebounds.
“They made all the plays they needed to make to win the game.So things that happen, like that fourth quarter, remind our team how good we can be. We can be that good so it was good for us to learn that today, it was really good.” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said.
Trading baskets with Irish back-to-back threes from Dangerfield and Samuelson cut the Notre Dame lead to just 43-36 at the half.
After a dismal start by Williams, Auriemma decided to go with Stevens instead of Gabby Williams, who scored just two points on 1-7 shooting in the first half. The junior was left on the benched for the entire second half.
The Huskies came out roaring but couldn’t come close enough to knotched a dent in the lead. Samuelson had a sequence with a steal, offensive foul and a pair of fouls shots to cut the deficit to three, but Notre Dame continued to keep UConn at bay.
UConn trailed 65-54 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 21 of the next 26 points that got the sold out crowd hyped.
Azura Stevens’layup gave the Huskies a 69-68 lead on a slip play their first since the second quarter. Kia Nurse had seven points during that run, including hitting her 13th consecutive 3-pointer over the past three games.
Stevens’ layup with 3:51 left in the game gave the Huskies (7-0) a 71-70 advantage after Arike Ogunbowale had briefly given the Irish (7-1) a 70-69 lead. Nurse then had another layup off a tip ball off Stevens’ head and the Irish didn’t have an answer.
With the victory, the Huskies will travel to Chicago to face the DePaul Blue Devils on Friday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on FS1.