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Irish fight, but come up short against No. 1 UConn

The best rivalry in women's basketball lived up to its billing, as UConn and Notre Dame battled back and forth, before the Huskies pulled away in the second half.

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Storrs, CT -- Despite a back-and-forth first half, the top-ranked UConn Huskies were able to hold off No. 3 Notre Dame in the second half, 91-81.

Breanna Stewart continued her dominance, recording her third double-double of the season. Stewart led all scorers with 28 points and added ten rebounds. The Huskies also got a big game from Morgan Tuck, who filled the stat sheet with 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

"(Tuck is) just somebody that we can count on every day and every night," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She's nothing flashy, nothing special. She just does all the little things that help you win games. She's not great at anything, but she's good at everything, and she's really good at winning games."

The Irish were led by the Mabrey sisters, who scored a combined 34 points. Marina finished with a team-high 23 points, while her sister Michaela added 11. Marina scored 21 of her 23 points in the first half, and was limited in the second half in large part because of Moriah Jefferson's defense.

"We just wanted to come out, face guard her, try to make her life really hard and not let her get any open shots," Jefferson said. "I take a lot of pride in my defense. I wanted to make sure that I came out and did what I could do for my team to shut her down, and try to make someone else hit shots."

Notre Dame found themselves down nine after one quarter, but would start the second quarter on a huge run to get back in the game. The Irish went on a 14-4 run to take their first lead of the game, 32-31. Michaela and Marina Mabrey contributed 12 of the Irish's 14 points during their run.

Despite playing without two of their starting forwards, Notre Dame out-rebounding the Huskies in the first half. Forwards Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer did not play in this one due to injury, after both had solid games against the Huskies the last time these two teams met in last year's National Championship.

UConn came out of halftime focused on getting the ball down low more, and began to open the game up. Tuck scored 15 of her 21 points after halftime. The Huskies ended the third quarter on a 12-2 run of their own, and took a 16-point lead into the final quarter.

"I think coach prepared us pretty well for the injuries we had," Marina Mabrey said. "I just think the third quarter really hurt us."

UConn expanded their lead to 22 early in the fourth, thanks to a 17-0 run started at the end of the third and carried over into the fourth. Notre Dame never gave up, and continued to hit shots from behind the arc.

Notre Dame went on a 11-2 run that cut the Husky lead to 11 points with a little under five minutes left to play. The Irish's run included three 3-pointers by Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable. Notre Dame shot 65 percent from behind the arc in the game.

Auriemma took a timeout as the lead was quickly evaporating, and his team responded. Katie Lou Samuelson continued her great play in her first game at Gampel Pavilion, and hit a corner three out of the timeout. Samuelson finished with 13 points in 23 minutes off the bench.

"Playing three big guys when they have four guards is problematic, unless your three big guys are dominating the game," Auriemma said. "Them being in a zone kind of made things harder for Gabby (Williams). So I thought if we could get another guard out there, stretch that zone out a little more, we'd get more room for Stewart and Tuck to operate inside, and we did do that."

Notre Dame was not done hitting threes, and made the game interesting in the final minutes. The Irish hit five threes in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough to complete the comeback.

"I was really proud of the way we battled," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "The way we shot the ball from the 3-point line was really good, and that's what we have to become now that we aren't as post oriented as we wanted to be. The margin for error for us with this team right now is pretty small, and for us to have 20 turnovers, I thought that was the difference in the game."