Women's Basketball: UConn hosts Notre Dame in Gampel opener

Senior guard Moriah Jefferson sizes up the defense during UConn's 88-46 victory over Nebraska. Jefferson is averaging 13.2 points per game. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

One of the biggest rivalries in women’s college basketball resumes Saturday night as the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team welcomes No. 3 Notre Dame in the Huskies’ first game at Gampel Pavilion of the 2015 season.

UConn (5-0) and the Fighting Irish (7-0) last faced off in the 2015 national championship game, with the Huskies winning 63-53 and claiming the program’s 10th national title. UConn and Notre Dame also played once before that meeting in the NCAA Tournament, with the Huskies winning 76-58 thanks in part to 25 points from Morgan Tuck.

The Huskies have won the last four meetings between the two schools, with the Irish’s last win coming on March 12, 2013 in the Big East Tournament.

“This is a game we are all looking forward to just because of the fact that it is Notre Dame and it’s sold out,” Stewart said. “Especially the seniors, we have a long history with them and this is the last time we will play them here in Gampel.”

Notre Dame comes to Gampel fresh off a 75-72 win over No. 10 Ohio State on Dec. 2 despite missing two starters. With forwards Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer out due to injuries, Madison Cable led the Irish with 25 points, five of them coming in the last minute to give Notre Dame the win. Cable also chipped in 11 rebounds, and Lindsay Allen added 20 points. Kathryn Westbeld filled in admirably in Turner and Reimer’s absence, scoring 14 points and six rebounds.

UConn is unlikely to see Turner Saturday night, who is suffering from a shoulder injury that has her debating whether to have season-ending surgery or play through the pain with a brace. However, Reimer has been cleared to play and should be available in some role for the Irish.

“It sucks that they are banged up,” Tuck said. “You want them to play because you want to play them at their full strength with their whole team. At the same time, we’re going to play either way. We’re going to play our game and go out and try to do the same things.

The Buckeyes are the only mutual opponent the Huskies and Irish have played this season. UConn cruised to a 100-56 win over Ohio State on the road in their 2015 season opener. Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 24 points and Moriah Jefferson added 21 points.

Stewart and Jefferson have played a pivotal role for the Huskies all season, but the two were critical pieces in UConn’s 86-70 win over DePaul on Wednesday, the closest game the Huskies have been a part of all season, and the Blue Demons’ 70 points were the most UConn has given up in a game this season and the most since a 91-70 win over Dayton in last year’s Elite Eight matchup in the NCAA Tournament.

Stewart played all 40 minutes and scored a season-high 29 points with 12 rebounds to help the Huskies beat the No. 18 Blue Demons. Morgan Tuck was a force down low, scoring 16 points and 11 rebounds. Jefferson nearly became the third Husky in the game with a double-double, falling just short with nine points and nine assists.

Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson turned her second double-digit performance in three games with 10 points in just 12 minutes against DePaul. All of Samuelson’s points came in the second half, including two three pointers. After struggling to find her shot early in the season, Samuelson has begun to settle in from beyond the arc, shooting 50 percent from the three-point line in her last three games.

While UConn’s offense was as good as ever against the Blue Demons, the defense will need to bounce back from it’s worst showing of the season in order to shut down the Irish offense. Cable leads the Irish in scoring, averaging 16.4 points per game and shooting 57.6 percent on three-pointers. Turner is second on the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game, but her absence leaves Westbeld and Marina Mabrey as the only Notre Dame players averaging double figures with 12.4 and 11.7 points per game respectively.

Saturday’s game marks the 44th matchup between UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw in a series that dates back to 1996. Auriemma owns 32-11 record against McGraw and the Irish, who are one of just three programs to defeat the Huskies more than 10 times in Auriemma’s 31 seasons at UConn. The Huskies and Irish continue their storied rivalry at 5:15 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.

“I think this group has a quiet confidence about them,” Auriemma said. “If we play good defense tomorrow and rebound the ball well, then we will be in position to win the game.”


Dan Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @DMad1433.