Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry gains added significance
Matthew Robison | Thursday, March 29, 2012
Notre Dame and Connecticut renew their Big East rivalry Sunday night in what will determine the premier team in the conference.
For the last two decades, Connecticut has dominated the Big East. However, recently – and especially this season – Notre Dame has made its claim as the new face of the conference.
In the regular season, the Irish knocked off the Huskies twice, once at Purcell Pavilion and once at the XL Center in Storrs, Conn.
“We’ve played them before,” graduate student guard Brittany Mallory said. “We know what to expect. They know what to expect. So it’s just going to be a good challenge.”
Connecticut got revenge for its two defeats this season when it beat Notre Dame, the Big East regular-season champion, in the conference championship game in Hartford, Conn.
“We beat them twice this year and they have beaten us once so it is an equal matchup,” senior guard Natalie Novosel said. “Going in, it is just going to be all about heart.”
When asked how the loss to the Huskies in the Big East title game will carry over into Sunday, the Irish said they will use it as a means of motivation.
“In a way it is a blessing in disguise,” Novosel said. “We look at it as a revenge game, and we usually do well in revenge games.”
Sunday night’s matchup figures to be the most heated contest of the rivalry to date. Last season, the Huskies swept the Irish in two regular season meetings and beat them in the Big East championship game. In the Final Four, the Irish finally got a win against Connecticut, beating the Huskies to advance to the national championship game against Texas A&M.
The Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed, had four-time All-American and AP Player of the Year Maya Moore and were thirsty for a rematch with Stanford, who ended their 90-game winning streak earlier in the season. But Notre Dame came out strong and held on to a 72-63 win, ending a 12-game skid by the Irish in the series.
After the game, it seemed as though Notre Dame had already won its championship – it had beaten Connecticut. The Irish then went on to lose to the Aggies in the title game.
“Last year with Maya Moore, they were the team to beat, we were the underdog,” McGraw said. “We were coming in off the Tennessee win off a high. Nobody expected us to be there.”
This year, Notre Dame might be even hungrier. But Connecticut has been here before. It may not have a single go-to scorer like Moore or Tina Charles, but Huskies coach Geno Auriemma knows how to prepare his players for big games.
“I think when we played UConn, we’ve had a lot of different games with them,” McGraw said. “Stefanie Dolson has really beat us. Bria Hartley’s beat us. I think different people have stepped up in different games and played really well. When you’re playing a team like Connecticut, they’ve had such an equal opportunity team that any one person can step up on a given night and play extremely well.”
Facing such a versatile lineup, the Irish cannot be complacent with their two victories over the Huskies this year. A national championship is the goal.
“Now, people expect us not just to be there, but to win,” McGraw said.
The Notre Dame-Connecticut rivalry has reached new heights. The two teams are not only competing for Big East dominance but national renown. When the ball is tipped Sunday night, it will no longer be about a conference, a rivalry or a history. It will be about two teams’ relentless pursuit of a national championship.
Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]