Previously, the No. 2 University of Connecticut women’s basketball team painfully lost to No. 1 South Carolina in a high stakes Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. With no games played between Monday, Nov. 22 and last Friday, the Huskies fell to the No. 3 ranking before being tied for second in the rankings with North Carolina State heading into this weekend’s matchups.
An 11-day rest period gave the Huskies plenty of time to fine-tune some mechanics heading into their Big East opener against Seton Hall. They were also going to be battle-tested because of the temporary absence of Azzi Fudd due to a foot injury as well as the unavailability of Aubrey Griffin.
Seton Hall had some key losses to their lineup as well; preseason All-Big East member Andrea Espinoza-Hunter was unavailable for the contest due to a violation of team rules. The team declined to comment on the nature of the rule violation.
Despite having most things in their favor, it was the Pirates that got out to an early lead. Behind a 10-0 run and several buckets by Mya Jackson and Sidney Cooks, Seton Hall led for most of the first quarter and finished it up 17-16. Paige Bueckers was the biggest Husky contributor, as she had nine out of UConn’s 16 points.
UConn would outscore Seton Hall 23-6 in the second quarter behind a dominating 12-0 run in the middle of the half. Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams provided support for Bueckers on the perimeter and in the paint.
Seton Hall kept the game as close as they could in the second half, consistently finding an answer to every UConn bucket and playing an intimidating defense, especially in the third quarter. The Pirates cut the lead down to 12 points in the fourth quarter, but the Huskies closed out the game with a 17-4 run for a 74-49 victory.
Despite the win, head coach Geno Auriemma noted how “We struggle in our offensive sets because we just don’t make enough outside shots. So everybody is playing us to put it on the floor and get to the lane.”
Bueckers was the star of the show as she had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists on 11-18 shooting. Nelson-Ododa had a productive game with 10 points and seven rebounds, while Williams dominated with 17 points of her own. UConn’s defense was incredible, as they limited the Pirates to just four scorers, including Lauren Park-Lane’s 20 points.
If Seton Hall was the Friday night appetizer, then No. 24 Notre Dame was the weekend entrée. The perfect side dish was a sold-out Gampel Pavilion with a massive crowd pop for both Auriemma and Bueckers.
Both teams played a defensive first quarter. UConn led 16-12 and was outrebounding the Irish 11-8 but had turned the ball over six times.
“We’re our own worst enemy … Our basketball IQ at times leaves a lot to be required,” Auriemma noted about the team’s struggles early in recent games.
The Huskies and Fighting Irish brought the heat throughout the entire second quarter, whether it was by making incredible turnovers or crashing the boards with a bombardment of rebounds. Nelson-Ododa continued to dominate, adding eight more points and six more rebounds for a first half total of 12 points and nine rebounds. Thanks in part to an 8-0 run and a buzzer-beater by Williams, the Huskies entered the locker rooms up 35-25.
Nelson-Ododa would finish with a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“I thought Liv had a great day today,” Auriemma commented. Despite the strong performance, she did foul out with 3:41 left in the game. Auriemma said she is a valuable asset to this team: “We can’t afford to have her in foul trouble.”
Down 10 at the half, the Irish upped the ante in the third quarter by drawing up the same plays that had kept them close in the first half. For the second straight quarter, their defensive pressures worked as they drew enough fouls to give them the bonus.
Free throws by the Irish’s Maya Dodson and Sonia Cintron helped shrink the Husky lead down to seven and gave Notre Dame a competitive chance to pick up their 10th win in the last ten years against the Huskies (for reference, everyone else in Division I basketball has 11 wins in that span).
That was not going to be the case in this chapter of the rivalry, however. UConn shut down the Irish offense in the fourth quarter, limiting them to zero points in the first four minutes and five until the final minute of the game.
The Fighting Irish had no answer for Caroline Ducharme, who dropped 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three three-pointers on five attempts.
“The last few games, I’ve just been overthinking what I need to do and today I just tried to go out and play,” commented Ducharme after her masterful performance off the bench.
Up 18 points and with 38 seconds left, Bueckers, who finished with 22 points and five steals, went down with what appeared to be a leg injury. There was no contact prior to the injury and Bueckers hobbled a little bit before going down. Gampel Pavilion, which was loud the entire game, quieted to a pulp as soon as Bueckers hit the floor.
When asked about the extent of the injury, Auriemma responded that “The doctors did a quick examination … on the replay, [the knee] probably looked like it hyperextended.” Having seen these kinds of injuries before, Auriemma mentioned how “The first thing that goes to your mind is the worst thing … it hits you in the pit of your stomach.”
Nelson-Ododa commented afterward that “We’re praying for the best and praying for good news.”
She would be carried off by Westbrook and Nelson-Ododa before requiring assistance to take part in the post-game handshakes. The Huskies would go on to win by a score of 73-54.
The Huskies (5-1) will travel to Atlanta, Ga. on Thursday, Dec. 9 to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It will be a homecoming for Nelson-Ododa, who hails from Winder, Georgia, a one-hour trip east from Atlanta.
“It’s a business trip, but I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends” noted Nelson-Ododa.
That game will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN 2 and the UConn Sports network. Live stats will be provided by StatBroadcast.