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Women’s Basketball: Huskies take bite out of Irish, win big 79-64

Eric Retter | Monday, February 20, 2006

As Notre Dame forward Crystal Erwin’s jumper fell through to give the Irish a 42-41 lead with just over 14 minutes to play Sunday, the team looked poised to at least continue its back-and-forth battle for the rest of game.

The No. 6 Connecticut Huskies, however, had other plans.

On their next possession, Connecticut guard Renee Montgomery drained an open 3-pointer, giving the Huskies their fourth lead of the half – a lead they would protect for the rest of the game as they went on to a 79-64 win over the Irish.

“I thought Montgomery was maybe the difference in the game,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “She shot it well. We were trying to guard her, but she made a lot of nice plays in transition.”

Both teams began play matching each other shot-for-shot, racing out to a 21-21 tie with 9:19 to go. Shortly thereafter, the Huskies briefly took control of the game, and five straight points from guard Ann Strother gave Connecticut a 31-23 advantage with 6:07 to play.

In that span, the Huskies were able to repeatedly take advantage of open jumpers set up off the drive.

“The guards did a poor job of finding the shooters,” McGraw said.

But the Irish were able to recover from the deficit, and by halftime had cut the lead to 37-33. In the second half, the Irish came out strong, erasing the gap and taking a one-point lead twice in the first six minutes.

Notre Dame was never able to extend its lead, however, as Connecticut always countered any Irish threat – generally with a 3-pointer. The Huskies, who were 10-of-19 from beyond the arc, had three players shoot over 50 percent from 3-point range, including Strother, who was 5-of-8.

“They just had too many weapons for us,” McGraw said.

As the deficit began to grow, Notre Dame comeback attempts were stymied in part by Connecticut’s relentless efforts to shut down senior point guard Megan Duffy, the team’s leading offensive weapon. Duffy, who scored 11 points on just 2-of-7 shooting and played all 40 minutes, appeared to grow fatigued as the game went on and got more physical.

Duffy’s shooting troubles also extended to the free-throw line, where she shot just 6-9, well below her season average of 91 percent.

“I thought that I should have given Megan a rest during the game,” McGraw said. “She was just defended so well, and they played her so hard.”

In light of the defensive effort against Duffy, guard Breona Gray stepped up her game, scoring 12 points behind 5-of-6 field goal shooting, making her one of four Irish players to score in double figures.

“I thought Breona had just a great game,” McGraw said. “I thought she looked to attack the basket offensively.”

After a Gray 3-pointer cut the Irish deficit to two with 11:35 to play, Connecticut again did more than respond, going on a 15-5 run over the next 5:23 that was highlighted by two Strother threes that served as daggers to Notre Dame’s chances and gave the Huskies a 62-51 lead with 6:12 to play.

“She’ll make shots at those key junctures in the game that will end up turning the game,” Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said of Strother, who finished with a game-high 19 points.

McGraw also pointed out the importance of that stretch in the game.

“I felt at that point we kind of lost our momentum, and I didn’t think we had the offensive firepower to get back into the game,” she said.

After the game, McGraw was blunt about the shortcomings that contributed to Notre Dame’s 15-point loss.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of teams in the conference that we can beat shooting 14-23 from the line and getting outrebounded.”

Lindsay Schrader also contributed 12 points, and Charel Allen added a couple of leaners and a three-pointer in the second half to finish with a dozen as well.