Women's Basketball: UConn heads to South Bend in battle of the unbeaten

Senior guard Kia Nurse prepares looks for a teammate during the Huskies 72-54 victory over the Texas Longhorns at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Nurse put up 15 points, the second highest on the team. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The UConn and Notre Dame rivalry between two of the women’s basketball powerhouses is set to be renewed Wednesday night in South Bend. To add even more intrigue to this top-notch rivalry; the Huskies overtook the Fighting Irish in the latest AP rankings to grab the No.1 ranking.

The Huskies have Notre Dame knocked out in three out of the last four NCAA tournaments and the Fighting Irish have not beaten UConn since defeating them three times in the 2012-13 regular season behind the masterful play of Skylar Diggins. Notre Dame defeated UConn by one point at Gampel Pavilion in January 2013, by nine points at home in triple overtime in March and by two points in the Big East championship to conclude the regular season. Since that final win for Notre Dame in the XL Center, the rivalry has been all UConn as they have won the last five games, including two in the National Championship game by a margin of 77 points.

“It’s going to be an incredibly pro-Notre Dame environment and given the history the last three or four years between the two teams, I would think there is going to be a high level of intensity and energy in the crowd and in their team,” commented head coach Geno Auriemma. “We are going to have to match that, they are deep and have a lot of players.”

Coming into this matchup, Notre Dame has been ranked the No. 1 team in the nation for the first four weeks but has dropped down to No. 2 in the AP, despite not losing a game. The Fighting Irish are still ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches poll as they have an 8-0 record and are 6-0 in South Bend. Their closest game this season was by 11 points and came against No.11 (then No.17 ranked) Washington in the preseason WNIT championship game.

Leading the way for the Fighting Irish this season is No. 24 Arike Ogunbowale who has averaged a team-high 17.5 points per game and a team-high 15 three pointers on 55.6 percent shooting. Notre Dame boasted four scorers, including Ogunbowale, who average over 10 points per game. They average 85.8 points per game and have an average margin of victory of 31.8 points. This year’s squad is very deep and athletic, averages 14.6 more rebounds than opposing teams and forces 7.1 more turnovers.

The new No.1 ranked team in the AP poll is the Huskies, as they find themselves back in a familiar place. Riding an 82 game winning streak and a seven game streak to start the season, they have defeated two straight ranked teams by a margin of 63 points. Led by junior Katie Lou Samuelson with 19.1 points per game and sophomore Napheesa Collier with 19 per game, the Huskies have scored 81 points per game.

In December, against top ranked teams, UConn has been dynamite as they are 199-56 in the month of December and have won 28 of the last 36 games against the AP top five, including 14 in-a-row. In those 36 games, the Huskies have posted a margin of victory of +14.7 points because high-level competition brings out the best in UConn.

Things get even better when they are playing as the No.1 ranked team as they are 381-15 when playing as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in the AP top 25 poll. In games between the No.1 and No.2 ranked teams, the Huskies are 19-3 and 14-2 when playing as the No.1 team in those games. On the flip side, Notre Dame is 1-4 in all-time No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups.

“We expect to play a really good basketball team and play a really good basketball game,” junior Kia Nurse said when asked about Wednesday’s high stake matchup.

The game will tip-off 7 p.m. Wednesday night and will be aired on ESPN2.


Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at matthew.kren@uconn.edu