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‘The UConn way’ pushes top-ranked Huskies past Notre Dame

No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Notre Dame squared off Wednesday night in one of the most anticipated games of the seasons. While the game could have gone to either team, the Huskies took off from the tip and gritted out a big win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Connecticut at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

South Bend, Indiana — The UConn Huskies extended their win streak to an impressive 83 games, and solidified their top spot atop the rankings, after a victory over the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 72-61.

The Fighting Irish appeared to be jittery at the start of the first quarter but still was able to open the game by scoring with a layup from Brianna Turner. However, Notre Dame fell victim to an 11-point scoring streak from the UConn Huskies.

After a back and forth game of turnovers, the Fighting Irish were able to get a bit of a boost and capitalize on UConn’s three straight turnovers. However, Notre Dame still found themselves down by 11 at the end of the first quarter, 23-14.

“I think we definitely let it all out and played the first quarter the way coach has been trying to get us to play, ‘the Uconn way’ and I think that we want to continue to be great and try to get to where we want to be at the end of the year,” said Katie Lou Samuelson.

After UConn had taken the lead in the first 10 minutes, the Fighting Irish came out with a vengeance for the second. Notre Dame scored three points on UConn turnovers and came within two points. UConn found themselves in a bit of a scoring slump after a quick 9-0 run for the Fighting Irish.

Samuelson snapped the Notre Dame’s run for the Huskies and followed up with another basket to tie the game at 34 apiece.

“Here is an opportunity for us to make a play. They thought they were back in and we separated ourselves. It comes from being confident in those situations,” said UConn’s head coach Geno Auriemma about his team after the second quarter run by Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish outscored the Huskies 20-11 in the second quarter to bring the game to a tie, 34-34, going into halftime. The way the game started for Notre Dame, it looked like they were going to be blown out, but maybe with the luck of the Irish, they were able to wake up and get back in the game.

Once again, though, UConn came out ready to go when the game began again. A fast break for Kia Nurse put the Huskies ahead 40-34 before a timeout was called by Notre Dame.

Auriemma’s team did continue to show confidence and their relentlessness to give up after a sloppy second quarter. UConn’s defense held Notre Dame scoreless in the third quarter for 5:47 before Jackie Young stole the ball once again for Notre Dame.

In the second period, Notre Dame responded to its sluggish first quarter so once again they countered by fighting back into the game with three straight baskets to bring the game within two, 42-40, with 3:01 left to play in the third.

Kathryn Westbeld tied the game at 42 a piece with a textbook layup, but it couldn’t get her team over the hump, as UConn led the Fighting Irish going into the final quarter of the game, 50-43.

Lindsay Allen sparked the scoring for Notre Dame in the fourth quarter. Arike Ogunbowale soon after drew a shooting foul under the basket, but was only able to sink one free throw to bring the Fighting Irish within four points.

“We knew that they were going to hit us hard. At times we just had to hit back harder and that was kinda how we went into the game, going one possession at a time,” said Gabby Williams, UConn’s forward.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Huskies continued to play poised, “the UConn way.” They continued to play one possession at a time, and were able to mount an eight-point lead late in the fourth.

With 3:07 left to go in the game, Notre Dame lost Young to an injury, who played 30 strong minutes with 7 points -- and an impressive 4 steals on the night.

The big 3 for UConn — Williams, Nurse, Collier — extended the Huskies’ lead, 72-56, after multiple fouls from the Fighting Irish. As the final minutes ticked away, UConn had outlasted the fight of Notre Dame as, they closed the game, winning by double digits, 72-61.

“To be in this atmosphere and what we did tonight says a lot about our maturity as a team, and I think we have grown a lot and we’re going to continue to grow because we’re going to have to play in these environments,” said Williams.

“We had three players play 40 minutes, and that is something. It was an amazing effort by them,” said Auriemma.

Collier, Williams and Samuelson had a combined 57 points on the night for the Huskies, while Turner lead the Fighting Irish with 16 points. The Huskies edged Notre Dame in rebounds 35-32. Both teams experienced turnover trouble with UConn turning the ball over 16 times and Notre Dame 15 times.