The No. 1 UConn Huskies (6-0) survived undermanned No. 3 Notre Dame’s (7-1) best shot, winning 91-81 in front of a sold-out Gampel Pavilion crowd on Saturday.
UConn senior forward Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 28 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds.
In addition to Stewart, UConn junior forward Morgan Tuck also made a huge impact on the game. Her 21 point, eight assist and seven rebound effort was too much for Notre Dame to handle without key forwards Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer who were sidelined with injuries.
“She’s just somebody that we can count on everyday and every night,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s nothing flashy, nothing spectacular, she just does all the little things that help you win games. It has been like that since her first year here.”
Despite coming off the bench, freshman guard Marina Mabrey was Notre Dame’s leading scorer with a career-high 23 points while shooting 10-of-13 from the field.
Playing in front of an electric home crowd, the Huskies started the game on a 10-2 run that forced Notre Dame to call a quick timeout, just four minutes into the game. Mabrey responded well out of the timeout, scoring 10 of Notre Dame’s 12 first points as they battled back into the game.
At the end of the first quarter the Huskies held a 27-18 lead thanks to nine first quarter points from Stewart.
In the second quarter Notre Dame found their comfort zone. The Fighting Irish went on a 14-4 run to open the quarter and take their first lead of the game when a Kristina Nelson layup put them up 32-31.
Notre Dame did not back down from the defending champion Huskies in the second quarter as the teams continued to trade baskets until a Moriah Jefferson three pointer with 21 seconds left gave UConn a 45-43 lead heading into the half.
“I was really proud of the effort and just the way we battled,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It showed a lot of character and that relentless attitude that these seniors are really directing.”
That relentless attitude trickled all the way down to the freshman Mabrey, who led all scorers in the first half with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field.
In the third quarter, UConn was able to finally make their run. The Huskies went on an 11-0 run to end the third quarter with a 72-56 lead.
“I thought we lost the game in the third quarter,” McGraw said. “Just so many little things that we cannot afford to make those kinds of mistakes. The margin for error for us with this team right now is pretty small.”
UConn also changed their defensive strategy in the second half. Jefferson face-guarded Mabrey the entire half, making it difficult for her to get any touches, let alone any more shots off. Mabrey was held to just 2 points in the second half.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Jefferson said. “I wanted to make sure I came out and did what I could do for my team and shut her down and make somebody else take some shots.”
Notre Dame tried to close the gap in the fourth quarter with the three point shot. The Fighting Irish were able to cut the deficit to 11 points, trailing 80-69 with 4:46 to go, but they were not able to mount a significant enough comeback. Notre Dame was lethal from three-point range on the night making 13 out of 20 attempts.
“Some of the threes they made were just ridiculous,” Auriemma said. “I mean how deep they were, with a hand up and all that. Some of them you just have to give them their credit. Those were really tough shots that went in.
With the victory the Huskies have now won their fifth straight game against rival Notre Dame, and own a 34-11 record all time against the Fighting Irish.
Spencer Mayfield is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.