UConn entered the green swamp of fans in Purcell Pavilion, donned in all-black uniform kits, hoping to dethrone one of its biggest rivals from the No. 1 spot in women’s college basketball. With help from some unpredictable forces — their freshmen, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa — UConn did just that. Because of those efforts, along with Napheesa Collier’s production, UConn pulled away with a win in a very hostile environment.
Three takeaways from UConn’s win
Christyn Williams is UConn’s fortune-teller.
The highlight of the day is none other than freshman Christyn Williams, who was responsible for nearly a third of UConn’s 89 points. It’s a small sample size of one game, but considering the gravity of the situation, Williams’ future with UConn is becoming a very warm security blanket. After all, she’s already a starter. But there are many more games to be played, including a month-long road test that includes games against Oklahoma and Baylor.
Until proven otherwise, though, time is on Williams’ side as she continues to shadow her older teammates and forge her own identity on Geno Auriemma’s offense.
If the threes aren’t there, they don’t care.
Again, UConn couldn’t string together three-pointers, but that didn’t stop the Huskies from experimenting. They likely went to South Bend knowing that Notre Dame would have that piece of the puzzle solved, so the Huskies improvised. By giving the Irish a taste of their own medicine, that allowed Katie Lou Samuelson, for instance, to test her own patience, shooting more effectively from the field (5-of-16) than from three-point range (0-for-4).
As a team, UConn did the unthinkable and outscored Notre Dame in the paint, 42-38.
Defense wins battles, but offense wins wars.
In terms of points off turnovers, UConn yet again exposed Notre Dame at its own game, converting 11 points off nine turnovers to Notre Dame’s three. That may not seem like a lot, but the Irish are typically well-versed in capitalizing on “one man’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Of course, UConn’s defense isn’t a conversation without mentioning Napheesa Collier, who had a truckload of rebounds and three blocks.
Seventy-one points is also a season-low for the Irish, who averaged 89 points in their previous four games.
UConn Huskies (89) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (71)
UConn’s underclassmen propel Huskies to a 7-0 record.
A plan that involved shutting down Samuelson, Crystal Dangerfield and Collier, Notre Dame had totally forgotten about Williams, who ended with 16 points in the first quarter. Squeaks, as Williams is known, would be matched with Arike Ogunbowale, who did just as much interior damage to UConn’s defense to start the game.
Strategy-wise, Notre Dame wanted to keep a watchful eye on UConn’s threat from beyond the arc which, throughout the entire game, was leveled to a 23.5 percent success rate. Meanwhile, UConn’s playbook centered around Collier, who finished with 10 defensive rebounds and her fifth double-double of the season (16 points, 15 rebounds).
Among other Huskies, Samuelson was to be UConn’s premier shooter against Notre Dame, but she ended up having a very quiet first half on offense with 0 points and 6 assists. With the benching of Collier, who ran into foul trouble, Samuelson needed to be the leader and turn up the volume on her gameplay. After halftime, she never looked back on her first-half performance, walking away from the game with 15 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
Though both offenses turned into a fireworks’ display, fouls played a huge part in the result as well. In fact, each team had three players with four personal fouls that eventually factored into a grand total of 36 personal fouls. Of the free throws that resulted, Notre Dame converted 16-of-24, while UConn missed only three shots from its 20 trips to the line. With four fouls to her name, Ogunbowale committed two momentum-shifting fouls: a technical foul for talking to Auriemma and an unsportsmanlike foul towards Dangerfield.
Overall, the Huskies looked like a very different team, adjusting their scoring offense to points in the paint rather than worrying about showboating on the perimeter. Additionally, their underclassmen took the reigns from the veterans, who had been holding onto them since the season began. For Notre Dame, its third loss to UConn at home over 96 games, is a bitter pill to swallow. But they matched UConn stride-for-stride and forced UConn to do some inner soul-searching.
At day’s end, the physicality and intensity of this matchup not only exceeded expectations, but also gave everyone a sneak peek into how the postseason could possibly unfold if UConn and Notre Dame are to meet later on in the season.
What’s next for UConn?
UConn Huskies at Saint Louis Billikens
When: Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO
How to tune in: CBS Sports Network, 97.9 ESPN Radio