Through the circus atmosphere, Notre Dame reigned with a dominant performance
HARTFORD, Conn. – Start with a ridiculous nine o’clock starting time to suit ESPN’s needs.
Add in a sprinkle of a coach needing a graduated senior’s ridiculous trash talking to motivate his team.
Mix in a preseason conference favorite, ranked number two in the country, that says they feel disrespected.
Simmer for about two hours, and garnish with seriously ugly Platinum Elite uniforms furnished by Nike.
The final result of this unsightly concoction is the first undisputed, unshared, solo Big East regular title for Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame. In a game that was at times close, and at times not so close, the Irish made sure by the end that everyone watching knew that they are the team capable of pushing Baylor come NCAA tournament time.
Why this game was played as the late game in ESPN’s Big Monday doubleheader, with the early game being in Texas is for more savvy minds than mine to try to figure out, because it makes no sense to me. We’ll just skip that one.
Then there was Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma’s comment on his pre-game show before Saturday’s Marquette game that there was bad blood between the two teams, followed by the perfectly timed release of the information that last year Becca Bruszewski opened the door of the Husky locker room in Indianapolis after their game and yelled “it must suck to be you.” Really? If that’s the big deal needed to motivate a UConn team defending their home away from home and playing for a half of the Big East title, well okay, I’m surprised to say the least.
For around 32 minutes, Connecticut hung with the Irish. At that point, I’m not sure if the bigger flame out came from the fire on the track at Daytona, or the performance of the Huskies’ regulars. The ultimate statement came with three minutes to go, when coach Geno Auriemma removed the entire unit, and finished the game, despite being down a reachable amount, with the end of his bench.
Natalie Novosel and Skylar Diggins, who led the Irish with 21 and 20 points respectively, both stated that they felt that they were disrespected and needed to prove they were the better team. This despite being the preseason favorite to win the Big East, having already clinched a tie for the conference title, and being ranked number two in the country. If that’s what motivated them, it certainly helped.
What helped most of all though, was their offensive rebounding, and the stellar play of senior Devereaux Peters in the “little things” that make a team successful. Peters had fifteen rebounds, eight in the second half. She had six offensive rebounds, three less than the entire Connecticut team. While Stefanie Dolson did have eighteen points for the Huskies (and was the only Husky praised by Auriemma), twelve were in the first half. In the second half Peters held her to three of eight shooting, and one rebound.
Diggins was kept in check for the first half, but scored twelve points in the second to lead the charge and blow it open. The Huskies defense was slow in rotating and getting back, yielding layups to Diggins and kick out passes to Novosel and Brittany Mallory for three pointers. Kayla McBride was stellar when UConn tried to make an early second half run as well, hitting three of four shots, and finishing with twelve points.
Starters Kelly Faris and Caroline Doty combined to miss all three shots they took; that’s right, I said they took three shots combined. As talented as Dolson, Tiffany Hayes, Bria Hartley and even Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis may be, you cannot play three or four players on offense against Notre Dame. Everyone needs to score, everyone needs to contribute. In the second half, Connecticut shot 34.5 percent from the floor and committed ten turnovers.
In the end, Notre Dame, as Auriemma said just had too much, and the Huskies were unable to handle it.
â€œEvery time we tried to make a bit of a run, we would commit a stupid turnover and every time we turned it over, they scored off of it,â€ he said. â€œI think there were a couple plays, back-to-back, that we turned it over and they scored. The fact that we couldnâ€™t keep them off the offensive boards [was also a factor]. Theyâ€™re just better than we are right now.â€
The two teams head into the Big East tournament now, with Notre Dame the clear cut number one seed, and Connecticut seeded third, behind St. John’s. Whether they will meet a third time in the final remains to be seen.