Notre Dame had to like their chances when they welcomed No. 1-ranked UConn at home Wednesday night. They had the size advantage over the Huskies, the scoring to match and the home-court advantage, not to mention a chip on their shoulder after being dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 earlier in the week.
But they did not have Gabby Williams.
The junior forward was simply brilliant against the Fighting Irish (8-1), scoring 19 points and adding 12 rebounds, six assists, five steals and two blocks to lead the Huskies (8-0) to a 72-61 victory and their 83rd-straight win.
Williams dominated both ends of the court, playing the entire 40 minutes and doing her part to help the Huskies outrebound a talented Notre Dame frontcourt led by Brianna Turner 35-32. While she shot just 7-17 from the field, she was 5-6 from the free-throw line and played solid post defense against the tall and skilled Turner.
After Turner opened up scoring 17 seconds into the first quarter, Williams led the Huskies on an 11-0 run with four points to give UConn a commanding 11-2 lead. Williams would tack on six more points in the opening quarter to put the Huskies up 23-14.
With Napheesa Collier sitting out the second quarter after picking up two fouls in the first, Notre Dame capitalized and pulled within striking distance of UConn early on. The Irish would get within two points after Jackie Young hit a 3-pointer to make it a 25-23 UConn lead. A few minutes later, Notre Dame would trail by just one after a layup by Arike Ogunbowale and then take a 32-30 lead after a 3-pointer from Mychal Johnson. Turner would hit a pair of free throws to go up 34-30 to cap off a 9-0 run during which UConn went scoreless for nearly four minutes.
While Williams excelled and Collier led the team in scoring with 20 points in just 29 minutes, Katie Lou Samuelson had the answer whenever the Huskies needed a basket. The sophomore guard pulled UConn even with the Irish to finish the half with four-straight points to tie the game at 34 at halftime.
Samuelson and Williams joined Kia Nurse as the only Huskies to play 40 minutes and were a combined 13-13 from the free-throw line. Samuelson added 18 points on the night with just one 3-pointer and Nurse added eight points and four assists. Crystal Dangerfield (four points) and Saniya Chong (three) were the only other UConn players to score against the Irish.
UConn opened the second-half with eight points over the first 5:10, capitalizing on an Irish scoring drought that lasted until a layup from Young with 4:13 left made it 42-36. Young’s layup started the Irish’s own 8-0 run and after a Collier layup and one made free throw from Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen, the Huskies would finish the quarter with six-straight points to pull away for a seven-point lead. UConn would continue to pull away throughout the fourth quarter, stretching a four-point lead with just over eight minutes left to 11 points with 3:06 left to play after Samuelson was fouled as she made a layup in traffic and hit the free throw.
The Huskies would hit eight-straight free throws down the stretch to lead by as much as 16 with 51 seconds to play before five points from the Irish made it 72-61.
Turner led the Irish with 16 points and 12 rebounds on 7-14 shooting. Allen was the only other Notre Dame player in double-figures with 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists in 40 minutes of play.
The win over the Irish gives the Huskies their 20th win in 23 tries in No. 1 vs. No. 2 games, while Notre Dame falls to 1-5 in those matchups. With the winning streak now at 83 games, UConn still has it fair share of tough matchups to pass tie their own record of 90 straight wins, including games against Ohio State, Nebraska and a road matchup against rival Maryland.