Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck did seemingly everything right in front of a sold-out crowd at Gampel Pavilion to help the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team to a 91-81 win over arch rival No. 3 Notre Dame. The dynamic duo combined for 49 points on 18-32 shooting to hand the Irish (7-1) their first loss of the season.
“They’re really versatile big guys,” UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson said of Stewart and Tuck. “They can go inside-outside, they can pass the ball, they can play defense, so it’s really hard to guard a team with players that are playing like that.”
With Notre Dame missing star forwards Briana Turner and Taya Reimer, Tuck, Stewart and the rest of the Huskies (6-0) had their way down low, outscoring the Irish 48-30 in the paint and outrebounding them 33-29.
Stewart posted yet another spectacular performance in her senior season, scoring 28 points on 12-18 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the year. Her 28 points marked the the fourth time in six games this season she’s scored 25 or more points.
“Stewie is Stewie,” Tuck said. “She’s a great player and I think what allows her to be so great is she knows how to read it and knows when to pick and choose, when to go score, when to kick it, when to attack, so I think when she does that, teams cant guard her.”
Tuck also proved too much to handle for the Irish down low, scoring 21 points with eight assists and seven rebounds by using her exceptional post moves and ability to get to the free throw line. The junior forward went 9-13 from the free throw line on top of 6-14 shooting from the field.
“I thought she was the difference in the game, you expect Stewart is going to get what she got,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said of Tuck. “To have Morgan Tuck come in with eight assists, one turnover, 21 points, got to the free throw line, did everything that she needed to do. She was probably the x-factor for them.”
Moriah locks down Mabrey
With Turner and Reimer out for the Irish, McGraw needed a player to step up and become a scorer against the Huskies. For the first 20 minutes, Marina Mabrey was the answer.
The freshman guard scored a career-high 21 points in the first half on 9-11 shooting, including 3-3 on three-pointers, to help the Irish stay within two points of the Huskies heading into halftime.
“She was in a real good comfort zone that first half, I mean it was all kinds of shots. She’s a really, really, really aggressive player. Once you get into that space and disrupt the flow of it it makes it really tough.” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of Mabrey’s first half. “I thought she was going to get 50 [points].”
Jefferson quickly put an end to that hot streak from Mabrey.
While UConn seemingly had no answer for Mabrey in the first half, Jefferson stepped up and locked down Mabrey for the second half, holding her to just two points on 1-2 shooting. Jefferson’s stout defense was one of the reasons the Huskies were able to pull away and outscore Notre Dame 46-38 in the second half.
“She had 21 in the first half and that’s unacceptable,” Jefferson said Mabrey’s performance. “We just wanted to come out and face guard and try to make her life really hard and not get any open shots.”
Despite Jefferson’s performance, the Huskies still showed some signs of weakness on the defensive end, allowing more than 10 three-pointers for the second straight game. The Irish finished the night shooting 65 percent from behind the arc on 13-20 shooting.
“Well that’s two games in a row now where both teams made way more than they’re used to making, so I guess there is something about playing UConn that makes threes go in,” Auriemma said. “Some of the threes they made were just ridiculous, I mean how deep they were, with a hand up and all that. Some of them you just have to give them credit, those were really tough shots.”