The UConn women’s basketball team will renew one of its fiercest rivalries Sunday afternoon as it takes on the No. 3 Notre Dame Irish at the XL Center in what is sure to be the biggest home game of the year.
The Huskies’ rivalry with Notre Dame goes back to January of 1996 when UConn defeated the Irish 87-64. The Huskies lead the all-time series 35-11 and have won six straight meetings against Notre Dame, after March 12, 2013 when the Irish beat UConn in the Big East Tournament.
The rivalry has been primarily one-sided as the Huskies have been dominant for so many years on multiple occasions, but Notre Dame has historically been a thorn in UConn’s side so it could very well be a close one on Sunday.
The No.1 Huskies enter Sunday’s matchup with a 6-0 record on the season, returning home after a three-game road trip on the West Coast that concluded with an 88-57 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack.
UConn will likely be without the services of Katie Lou Samuelson for the fifth consecutive game as she continues to recover from a midfoot sprain she suffered in the Huskies’ home opener against California on Nov. 17. The original prognosis for Samuelson was a week-to-week evaluation, so her status will likely be up in the air for the coming week.
Senior guard Kia Nurse and redshirt junior guard/forward Azurá Stevens have stepped up immensely in Samuelson’s absence, leading the team in scoring since the game against Cal. Nurse averages 16.2 points per game for the year, while Stevens, bumped up to the starting lineup after beginning the season as the sixth man, averages 14.2 points per game.
Both Nurse and Stevens have had explosive offensive performances as of late. Stevens dropped 25 points and brought in 16 rebounds in the Huskies’ 96-62 win over Michigan State in the PK80 tournament in Eugene, Oregon, while Nurse went 9-10 from the field (8-8 from the 3-point line) in a 27-point performance against Nevada.
Notre Dame is 7-0 on the year and, like UConn, has a few big wins on its résumé early in the season. Last week, the Irish took down the Huskies’ American Athletic Conference rivals USF 76-66, and then took down defending national champions South Carolina 92-85 the very next night to win the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.
The Irish have two fantastic scorers at the guard positions in sophomore Jackie Young and junior Arike Ogunbowale, who average 17.9 and 20.7 points per game, respectively. They each play over 33 minutes per game and are impressive on the glass for guards as well. Young brings in 8.6 rebounds per game, whereas Ogunbowale averages six rebounds a game.
Ogunbowale offers Notre Dame a perimeter threat, shooting roughly 37 percent from beyond the 3-point line, while Young’s game is restricted to within the arc, as she plays more of a guard/forward role in the paint. Restricting the scoring ability of these two stars will be key to UConn’s success Sunday afternoon.
One of the biggest rivalries in women’s college hoops will be renewed as the action tips off 4 p.m. Sunday at the XL Center.
Chris Hanna is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball and football. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @realchrishanna.