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ND Women’s Basketball: UConn do it

Laura Myers | Friday, February 18, 2011

Notre Dame didn’t burn the records of its first meeting with Connecticut this year, as much as players may have wanted to get rid of those last four minutes.

A rebound here, or a shot falling there, and the No. 13 Irish could have come away with an improbable victory over the No. 2 Huskies on Jan. 8. Instead, they left with a 79-76 loss on their record.

In the six weeks since that game, neither team has lost. Connecticut, still No. 2, has averaged a 26.7-point margin in its 11 victories. Notre Dame, now No. 8, has averaged a 25.6-point margin in its nine wins. Connecticut has since defeated five ranked teams, Connecticut three.

Now they face each other again, this time in Storrs, Conn., Saturday, with a possible Big East title at stake.

“We’re a better team now, and I’m sure they feel like they’re a better team now,” sophomore guard Skylar Diggins said. “But we’ve grown a lot and I’m really happy with it.”

Notre Dame (22-4, 11-1 Big East) enters the game second in the conference, behind the Huskies (25-1, 12-0). Both teams have four games left on their regular-season schedules.

“We have a chance to win the league,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “And we’re playing for seeding, both in the Big East and the NCAAs.”

Despite the emotional end to Notre Dame’s earlier matchup with Connecticut, McGraw said the team has improved because it never lost its focus.

“This team, under the leadership of [senior forward] Becca Bruszewski, has really approached every game as the most important game in our season,” she said.

But Diggins said the team never completely forgot.

“When we played Rutgers, it was all about Rutgers. Then boom, it’s on to the next opponent,” she said. “And that’s been this team’s focus all year, one game at a time.

“But of course, it’s in the back of our minds.”

Diggins has been instrumental in her team’s growth in the last several weeks and was named Big East player of the week Monday for her 20-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance against Rutgers Saturday and her 14-point, seven-assist, six-rebound, five-steal stat-line against Seton Hall on Feb. 8.

“When she gets in the lane, she’s really hard to guard and we’re a much better team,” McGraw said.

The Huskies last played Monday, when they defeated No. 14 Oklahoma 86-45. Huskies guard Maya Moore scored 27 points in the game to bring her career-total to 2,796 as she became the Big East’s all-time leading scorer.

The win was Connecticut’s 75th straight at the Gampel Pavilion.

“It’s going to be loud, and [the fans] are going to be on us,” Diggins said. “Hopefully we can take their fans out. We know they’re a huge part. Hopefully we can attack early and set the tempo early and try to limit that.”

Beginning with Saturday, three of Notre Dame’s last four games are on the road against ranked teams.

Diggins said the team is playing with the most confidence it’s had all year, and have a very different approach to Connecticut than they did in 2010, when they burned the tapes of their 70-46 loss in Storrs.

“We burned it because it was awful,” she said. “This year, the last four minutes you want to burn up, but it’s like, ‘Hey, we can win this game.’ I feel like I don’t need to convince any of my teammates that we can win this game.

“Last year, it was let’s play not to lose. This year, it’s let’s play to win.”

The game will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday.