Hartford, CT — The UConn Huskies looked like the Husky team people expect to see in big games for about one quarter Sunday afternoon against third-ranked Notre Dame. Luckily, UConn played their best basketball when it mattered most, in the fourth quarter, and were able to erase a double-digit deficit to remain unbeaten, 80-71.
For about three quarters, it looked and felt like the Huskies were not the better team at the XL Center in Hartford. The Fighting Irish took it to UConn in the second quarter particularly, outscoring the Huskies 25-14 thanks in large part to an edge on the boards and execution.
“Our communication was bad overall, and they were hitting really tough shots,” UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson said. “We weren’t executing our gamelan as well as we wanted to. When we say that a team is really good at rebounding like they are, and offensive rebounding, we need to make an emphasis on that and not let them do it.”
Samuelson played a huge role in Sunday’s contest after missing the last four games with a foot injury. Samuelson finished with a team-high 18 points, but barely played in the fourth quarter when the Huskies made their run after leaving the game with an ankle injury.
Every team has injuries, but Samuelson not being 100 percent, plus Gabby Williams seeing limited minutes against Notre Dame due to migraines, is the beginning of the explanation as to why the Fighting Irish were able to build a double-digit lead in the second quarter. Home court advantage played a roll, and was something both coaches mentioned after the game.
“We talked about that going into the game, that we had 15 thousand plus going to be at the game and that we wanted to crowd to be a factor, but we didn’t give them a chance to be until the fourth quarter,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I had said let’s see if we can get the crowd involved and let’s see how Notre Dame handles the crowd because the crowd and us, that’s two things you have to handle.
“In the fourth quarter our crowd responded the way they always do when its a big game and a big moment. That was pretty loud today. There was one time when I don’t think they could hear when they were trying to call something. It was like the old days. It felt good today.”
“They’re a great team and its going to be hard for people to beat them, especially here,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think that it was great we were able to have a good game. It’s a measuring stick this time of the year, and we are pretty close to where we need to be so if you look at it that way, it’s a good thing.”
UConn won’t always be playing at home, even thought as a No. one-seed in the NCAA Tournament they rarely have to leave the state of Connecticut before the Final Four.
Auriemma half-jokingly talked about how this is “one of those years” after the Notre Dame comeback win.
“I know the coaches that I know in the country are loving this because, even though we have a lot of good players, this is one of those years where every kid that we have on our team can do one thing,” Auriemma said.
“We’re used to having players that can do a whole bunch of things, and now we have to figure out where do we put this one guy to make them successful. So everybody out there, I’m earning my money. It ain’t that hard, but still.”
That acknowledgement about his team is something that other teams are definitely noticing. While both UConn and Notre Dame have played tougher schedules to date, it is always good for two highly-ranked teams to be tested at this point in the season.
“I think it was really big for us, and we needed this type of game,” Samuelson said. “Everyone found out today we are very vulnerable, and that we have things we need to work on. We know we need to fix stuff, or something similar will happen to what happened last year.”
“We fought back. That showed we have that heart, and we have that passion that we need to play with at all times,” concluded Samuelson.
#WOW! UConn vs Notre Dame Postgame #chatPosted by Swish Appeal on Sunday, December 3, 2017