With nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team found itself down by 11 against No. 3 Notre Dame. The Huskies were without two of their star players, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson, who were both taken out of the game with injuries.
In a rivalry matchup that head coach Geno Auriemma called UConn’s biggest test of the season, the Huskies were in trouble.
UConn (7-0) responded with a 22-3 run over the game’s final 7:30 despite the depleted roster. Huge contributions from first-year Huskies Azurá Stevens and Megan Walker were crucial in completing the comeback.
Stevens, a redshirt junior transfer, scored 17 points in the game, including 10 in the final quarter. After Samuelson went out early in the fourth, the Huskies fed Stevens inside and the 6-foot-6 forward responded with a physical play around the rim, despite playing the whole fourth quarter with four fouls.
“[Napheesa Collier] did a really good job finding me down low and we were working really well together, as well as Kia [Nurse] and Crystal [Dangerfield] coming off of the screens,” Stevens said. “I think they were really able to stretch the D out and the post was really wide open towards the end of the game. So we did a really good job of getting easy scores in the paint.”
Stevens also grabbed eight rebounds in her 26 minutes, but it was her offensive performance that brought the Huskies back into the game. Stevens went 7-for-12 from the field as she continues to improve offensively.
“We’re trying, offensively, to get her to go to more places to get her shots, and that’s not easy when you’ve played a different way (for) a lot of years,” Auriemma said. “It’s taken her a while, but she’s gotten better and better every game since the first game.”
Walker also played in her first UConn-Notre Dame matchup and the freshman responded to an increase in playing time by recording five huge rebounds in the fourth quarter. Walker only logged 17 minutes in the game, but she played the entire fourth quarter, stepping up when Auriemma needed somebody off the bench.
“Megan has a lot of talent,” Auriemma said. “She has a lot of ability, she can do a lot of things and rebounding is one of them, and she proved that today. And she proved that she can make plays in this kind of a game, in this kind of an environment.”
While the two Husky newcomers were the biggest influences on the court, Auriemma pointed to a UConn tradition as another critical factor in the win: crowd noise.
“Our crowd responded the way they always do when it’s a big game and a big moment,” Auriemma said. “It was pretty loud today. There was one time when I don’t think they could hear… It was like the old days. It felt good today.”
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.