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Fumbled opportunity

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, January 13, 2005

The defending national champion Connecticut Huskies found their game Wednesday night at the Joyce Center, and No. 7 Notre Dame lost its own.Connecticut dominated the Irish in the second half en route to a 67-50 win.The Huskies rebounded better, played better defense and most of all wanted the win more than the Irish.For Notre Dame, it was a bad loss. But wait, a loss to Connecticut – a national powerhouse – a bad loss? Yes, that’s right, a bad loss.This year’s Huskies are not last year’s team. They have struggled all season, losing games to Arizona State, Michigan State and Tennessee, games the Huskies of old would have won. It took overtime for Connecticut to beat South Florida at home. Wednesday’s win over the Irish was the Huskies’ first win over a ranked opponent this season.And so Notre Dame is left with a two-game losing streak and a mediocre 2-2 Big East record.”We have a lot of work to do,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.The Irish struggled most of the game. They played as if they were the underdogs of just a year ago. But they weren’t. Not this time. And so the Irish watched as Connecticut dominated inside. They watched Huskies freshman Charde Houston score 15 points in the second half, good for 19 on the game. They saw Ashley Battle, who averages seven points a game, put up 15 points. They watched as they were beaten by a team with less talent.Sure, All-American Jacqueline Batteast hurt her ankle with five minutes to play in the first half.Sure, she shot just 2-of-12 from the field. If this happened last year, Connecticut would have blown out Notre Dame.But this year’s Irish team is good enough to win despite those numbers by Batteast. What killed Notre Dame were turnovers, offensive rebounds and a lack of intensity.”Rebounding was the problem in the second half,” forward Crystal Erwin said. “We also didn’t play with nearly enough energy.”Notre Dame committed 17 turnovers, including seven by point guard Megan Duffy. No matter who you play, it’s tough to win when you turn the ball over 17 times.Battle, the Connecticut senior, called the win the “turning point of the season.” She said it was the first time the Huskies played the way they could.And so they got the upset, unlike a year ago.Geno Auriemma, who boasts a career .835 winning percentage, said it the best.”The win was incredibly important,” he said. “At some point, we needed to win a game like this so our team could be reminded of who we are.”Wait, Connecticut, having to reaffirm who they are?A team who has won the last three national championships and four of the last five?Well, thanks to Notre Dame, Connecticut knows who they are again. That’s what Wednesday’s game did.But on the other side, Notre Dame has to regroup. Batteast must get healthy, Duffy has to take care of the ball and defensive rebounding needs to improve. In the meantime, the Irish have to deal with another upset, their third loss of this young season.”I think they expect to be one of the better teams in the league, and they certainly act like it and they play like it,” Auriemma said.Just not on Wednesday.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Heather Van Hoegar-den at hvanhoeg@nd.edu