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ND Women’s Basketball: Time for redemption

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, January 28, 2005

No. 9 Connecticut saved its season Jan. 12, when it beat Notre Dame 67-50 at home. Senior Ashley Battle called it a “turning point” at the time, and that it has been.

Since that game, the Huskies have been red-hot, winning four straight, including a 73-57 defeat of No. 15 Texas and three straight Big East wins, leaving them undefeated in the conference.

Sunday, No. 6 Notre Dame (17-3, 5-2 Big East) looks to end this winning streak as the Irish travel to Hartford to face Connecticut for the second time in less than a month.

“They’re on a roll right now,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we put them on a roll. The win over us really got their confidence back.”

The lost confidence came after the Huskies (13-4, 6-0 Big East) dropped four of their first 12 games, losing at No. 12 North Carolina and Arizona State and losing at home to No. 11 Michigan State and No. 5 Tennessee.

And Connecticut will be even tougher than when Notre Dame faced them on Jan. 12.

Back from injury is leading scorer and second team All-Big East performer Barbara Turner, who averages 12.4 points per game. Not far behind Turner in the scoring column is fellow junior Ann Strother. The 6-foot-2 guard averages 12.1 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Connecticut has found another source of offense in freshman Charde Houston. In just 19 minutes per game, the freshman is averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds, and shoots 56.5 percent from the field. Houston was the Big East’s Freshman of the Week the past two weeks after a 25-point performance against Texas. Houston gave Notre Dame problems during the last matchup, as she scored 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting, which complemented her five rebounds, three steals and three blocks.

The Huskies are the No. 1 team in the Big East conference, making this game especially important for the Irish, who sit in fourth place, behind Connecticut, Boston College and Rutgers, after Wednesday’s win over St. John’s.

“Nobody’s really given them a game in the Big East,” McGraw said. “They’ve been dominant in the Big East. They’re the team to beat again, the No. 1 team, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

Notre Dame escaped Wednesday against St. John’s after coming back from a 35-31 halftime deficit to win 72-65. All-American Jacqueline Batteast said Notre Dame needs to play better defense if it wants to deal the Huskies their first conference loss.

“I think it starts with defense,” Batteast said. “It’s been that way the whole season – the better defense we’ve played, the better offense we’ve had. So we can’t go out there and try to outscore UConn, because that’s not going to happen, so we really need to work on our defense right now – the offense, it will come.”

Sunday’s game is at the Hartford Civic Center, which is not only Connecticut’s home court, but also the site of the Big East Tournament. McGraw knows the Huskies always draw a tough crowd.

“Certainly playing in their building, they’ll be playing with even more [confidence],” McGraw said. “They know that they can beat us badly at our place, and so they figure, I’m sure, that the same thing is going to happen up there.”

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.