On April 5, 2019, Arike Ogunbowale, Jackie Young and the rest of Notre Dame women’s basketball beat Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and UConn 81-76 in the Final Four, knocking them out of the tournament.
Now, eight months later, the cores of the two teams have moved on to bigger and better things, and it was time for UConn’s new core to step up to the task of the historic rivalry.
And did they ever. From tip-off to the final buzzer, UConn was in control, beating the Fighting Irish 81-57. Sure, it might not have been the same team. This is the first time in well over two decades that the Fighting Irish are under .500 after 10 games. But it was still Notre Dame versus UConn.
“A lot of times when you play Notre Dame you’re trying to figure out how to keep them from scoring 100 … and this year the situation that they find themselves in, we wanted to speed the game up, we wanted to male the game really, really fast,” head coach Geno Auriemma said. “We wanted to see if they could keep up with us scoring-wise, so it was a little bit of a different approach than in some years, but that’s what the challenge to our players was, and they responded. They responded perfectly in that first half, second half, eh, but that first half was pretty darn good.”
The Huskies came out of the gates roaring, going on a 12-2 run to open up the game. By the time the first quarter was over, UConn had a commanding 29-13 lead. Megan Walker and Olivia Nelson-Ododa each had nine points and three rebounds, while every player who played at least five minutes found their way into the scoring column.
And while Nelson-Ododa slowed down in the second quarter, Walker did anything but that, bumping her first-half total to 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, one block and two steals.
Meanwhile, the team was dominating Notre Dame on the defensive end. Through the first half, the Fighting Irish were shooting just 37.9% from the field and – get this – 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. Heading into the break, UConn had a commanding 52-25 lead.
“In the locker room we kind of talked about how we have to come out and play this game, and put them away early, and put them away big, and I think we did that,” Crystal Dangerfield said.
Things didn’t improve for Notre Dame in the third, starting the quarter with an exactly five-minute scoring drought before getting their first bucket. UConn had pushed their total up to 59 by the time the Fighting Irish made in 27, and at the end of the quarter, the Huskies had tacked on another three points to their lead.
As for the fourth, well, it didn’t really mean much. Yes, Notre Dame outscored the UConn by six, but the Huskies stopped really pushing the ball up court as aggressively as they were in the first half. Three players who didn’t start the game played over a third of the quarter and no UConn starter spend more than 8:25 on the court.
Walker finished her day with 26 points and 13 rebounds, her third double-double of the season, however also turned the ball over five times. Nelson-Ododa, who was a mismatch in the paint all game, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds of her own for her fourth double-double, with her point total being a season-high.
Christyn Williams had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, and Crystal Dangerfield, who after the game Auriemma said was still not 100% healthy, finished with 6 points on 3-of-11 shooting, five assists and four turnovers.
Overall, it was a good day for UConn basketball. Was Geno happy with it you ask?
“He was, and that’s how you know we did good, he was satisfied,” Williams said. “You never get satisfied from coach, but he was very content with us today, so that’s great.”
Photos by Charlotte Lao / The Daily Campus