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Huskie-sized upset

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, January 14, 2004

When she hit her first two shots, Connecticut star Diana Taurasi was on her way to redeeming herself after only scoring four points last year at Notre Dame in a 72-53 win.But Notre Dame’s Jacqueline Batteast had plans of her own.Batteast scored 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Irish’s 66-51 upset of No. 4 Connecticut (11-2, 2-1 Big East) Tuesday at the Joyce Center.”Batteast was just the best player on the court tonight,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said.Batteast keyed Notre Dame not only on offense but on defense as well. With 3:17 left in the game and the Irish up 55-51, she blocked a driving Taurasi, then proceeded to score against Taurasi on a driving layup to put the Irish ahead for good. The Huskies didn’t score again.”The block deflated Connecticut,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought it was a really big turnaround in the game.”Notre Dame (9-6, 2-1 Big East) led the whole game, their largest lead other than the final margin coming with 6:14 in the first half, when Batteast hit a layup to put the Irish up 30-16.Connecticut, however, fought back with a 10-3 run to close the half down 33-26. Notre Dame led the entire second half. Taurasi hit a baseline jumper with 4:50 left to cut the lead to 53-51, but that was as close as the Huskies would get. The Irish closed the game with an 11-0 run, including five points by Batteast.”I was excited about our defense,” McGraw said. “Our zone frustrated them a little bit. We really worked hard in our zone. I think now we’re starting to believe in it.”The Notre Dame defense was key, holding the Huskies to a season low 31 percent shooting. Taurasi, who averages 19.8 points, was held to 11 points on only 4 of 15 shooting.A crowd of 8,574, the seventh largest in Irish history, played an important role in getting the Irish started. After Teresa Borton (eight points) missed the first shot of the game, Notre Dame hit eight straight to jump out to a 17-12 lead. They never trailed again.”[The crowd], made us want to play harder,” Megan Duffy said.For the Irish, the win marked their first defeat of a top-five opponent since March 30, 2001, when they defeated Connecticut 90-75 in the NCAA semifinal.”I’m just so proud of this team right now,” McGraw said. “Probably not many people thought we could win that game. We played with poise down the stretch.”Notre Dame shot a scorching 59.5 percent from the field and outscored the bigger Huskies 32-24 in the paint.Courtney LaVere scored 14 points, including her second career three-pointer. Le’Tania Severe added 12 points for Notre Dame, who snapped Connecticut’s Big East regular season win streak of 44 games. Severe also tied a season high with six assists and only one turnover.”Anytime you can beat a great team, and they are a great team, its just a great confidence booster for the program,” McGraw said. “I thought the whole team played a great game.”Borton, Batteast and Severe were forced to play with four fouls in the closing minutes. They remained aggressive, however. Batteast, who picked up her fourth foul with eight minutes to go, came up with the block on Taurasi, and the others kept battling.”I thought that they played with a lot of intelligence,” McGraw said.Connecticut was led by Jessica Moore’s 13 points and six rebounds. Barbara Turner also added 13 points, and five rebounds.”This was a big win,” Batteast said. “It just feels good right now.”