The Connecticut Huskies are back at their old stomping grounds atop of the rankings. The superheroes of women’s college hoops returned to the top spot on Monday for the first time this season. But with an 82-game win streak on the line, it may not be for long.
There is one team that has proven to be somewhat of a kryptonite for the Huskies over recent years: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On Wednesday night, the two teams will battle it out as the best-ranked teams in the nation.
Since 2010, UConn has lost just 12 games with seven of those losses came at the hands of Notre Dame, while the rest of the nation combined to make up the remaining five. This just so happened to coincide with the arrival of Skylar Diggins when she donned the gold and blue, giving the Irish a confidence boost that has stuck with them.
The Huskies have had more than their fair share of wins over the Irish too, with an all-time record of 34-11 over Notre Dame. More recently and devastatingly for the Irish, was at their Final Four appearances in 2013, 2014 where UConn took the win in the semifinal – and the 2015 National Championship.
However, that’s all in the past. Let’s take a look at this season, which is shaping up nicely so far for both sides.
UConn is undefeated (7-0) as is Notre Dame (8-0). For the Huskies, four of those wins have come against ranked opponents (Florida State, Baylor, DePaul and Texas), whereas the Irish have defeated one team in the top-25 (Washington).
The Fighting Irish have been the top-ranked team week in and week out of this young season. But a loss from the then third-ranked South Carolina on Sunday, ignited some reshuffling at the top, and allowed UConn to leapfrog Notre Dame in the Associated Press rankings, adding fuel to an already fiery rivalry.
These two teams are trailblazers for women’s college basketball, and they understand and respect what each brings to the table. However, that doesn't mean they like each other.
Not at all, actually.
And that gives us the perfect concoction for an intense and dramatic showdown.
Muffet McGraw has depth in her Fighting Irish team, with returners Lindsay Allen and Brianna Turner leading the way. Allen is currently ranked fifth in the nation in assists with 7.5 per game, while Turner has been taking full advantage of her scoring opportunities, reaching double figures in 26 consecutive games.
Sophomore Arike Ogunbowale is also off to a scorching hot start for Notre Dame. She leads the team with 17.5 points per game, and the uber-talented freshman Jackie Young, fresh off earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors, provides another threat for McGraw.
Geno Auriemma may have lost three of his starters from last season’s national title-winning team, including standout Breanna Stewart, to the WNBA and lack some of McGraw’s depth, but that is nothing the legendary coach can’t handle. Players like sophomore forward Napheesa Collier have stepped up to fill the large gaps.
Collier averages 19 points per game and shoots a blistering 66.7% from the field, which contributes to the Huskies’ second-ranked field goal percentage in the country at 50.5 percent. Notre Dame is also going to have to find a way to stop UConn’s efficiency from behind the arc, where they are ranked top in the nation for field goal percentage with 44.4.
The level of basketball intelligence, mixed with intense pride and passion that oozes with these two teams on the court can never fail to disappoint. It may be early in, the season, but a win for either team will make a statement that will carry through until March, where neither team is a stranger to the Final Four.
So if you have plans that don't involve NCAA women’s basketball and ESPN2 on Wednesday night, you should probably cancel them -- with this match up promising to be another fierce and wild ride.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. ET at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.