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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish give up early lead, fall to Connecticut

| Sunday, December 7, 2014

It was a rare phenomenon at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, featuring a crowd that was largely quiet for the second half and some fans that started to filter out before the final buzzer.

It was an even rarer phenomenon that those fans saw No. 2 Notre Dame lose for the first time in 34 home games and 60 regular-season games, as No. 3 Connecticut handed the Irish their first loss of the season, 76-58.

The Irish (8-1) faced the Huskies (6-1) without freshman forward Brianna Turner, who suffered a right shoulder injury against Maryland on Wednesday.

Turner’s absence showed, with Connecticut dominating the boards, earning 52 rebounds to Notre Dame’s 34, and the paint, collecting 44 points down low compared to 28 for the Irish.

“Defensively, I was really disappointed in our effort,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “… I thought our post defense was poor. … Obviously, the game was, I thought, lost on the boards, and that was a big key for us. We just went soft, and so it was very disappointing.”

Most of the Irish offense ran through junior guard Jewell Loyd, who accounted for more than half the team’s points, matching career-highs with 31 points and four steals. Her totals included three 3-pointers and eight made free throws.

Jewell LoydJodi Lo | The Observer

Jewell Loyd

Even then, Loyd put up 27 shots from the field but missed 17 of them, and she was responsible for seven of Notre Dame’s 18 turnovers. Averaging 22.2 points per game, Loyd faced a double team from the Huskies for much of the game.

“I think guarding Jewell Loyd is really hard, and guarding her with one player is just not possible,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said.

“We just looked like a deer in headlights,” McGraw said. “We made some shots early, and I think when things are going good, it’s kind of a young team, and they’re going to roll along with it, and then when things go bad, Jewell’s really the only one that wanted the ball, so that was a problem.”

The Irish and Huskies kept a close game through much of the first half, with Notre Dame holding a 28-18 lead 10 minutes into the game.

At that point, Auriemma called a timeout, and Connecticut went on a 22-4 tear to close the half, leading 40-32.

Outside Loyd, the Irish struggled offensively, missing support from several key players.

Junior guard Michaela Mabrey finished 0-for-5 on her shots from behind the arc and with no points in 29 minutes.

Sophomore forward Taya Reimer made four of her 11 field-goal attempts for eight points in the game, and as a team, the Irish shot just 31.4 percent from the field.

“I think Taya, [freshman forward] Kathryn [Westbeld], [senior guard] Madison [Cable] and Michaela are all capable of a lot more, and so we’ve got to figure out why it happened that they didn’t perform today,” McGraw said.

Taya ReimerJodi Lo | The Observer

Taya Reimer

On the other side of the court, sophomore forward Morgan Tuck dominated for the Huskies, notching 25 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

“I thought Morgan Tuck was tremendous,” McGraw said. “She had a heck of a game, really did whatever she wanted in both halves.”

Leading the Huskies’ charge on the glass was senior forward Kiah Stokes, who pulled down 18 rebounds in addition to her four blocks.

Near the end of the game, the Irish picked up their productivity, but Connecticut matched them each trip on the other end, keeping Notre Dame from crawling back in the score.

“We played really well today, and we won a game in a place that’s really hard to win against a team that’s really hard to beat, so our players feel really, really good about that,” Auriemma said.

In the other locker room, the Irish said they are not going to hang their heads after their defeat.

“We hate losing, so we never want to lose, and we always want to compete at a high level,” Loyd said. “From this game, we’re going to go back to the drawing boards and compete in practice and hopefully, that transfers over to our games.”

The Irish look to get back to their winning ways in their next game against DePaul on Wednesday.

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Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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