ND Women’s Basketball
Irish blow 12-point lead in loss to No. 1 UConn
Daniel O'Boyle | Monday, December 4, 2017
The No. 1 team in the nation was on the ropes.
Notre Dame led by as many as 12 points just before halftime and by 10 with just seven and a half minutes left.
One Connecticut preseason All-American did not play a single second-half minute. Another went to the locker room injured in the fourth quarter, with the Irish leading by double-digits.
Notre Dame looked on course to record its first victory over the Huskies since the 2013 Big East Tournament. A 1000th game to remember for Muffet McGraw.
“I thought we played really well for 35 minutes,” McGraw said.
“And then, I don’t know. I don’t know.”
After leading 68-58, the Irish scored three more points.
The Huskies scored 22.
It was the Irish, not Connecticut, who fell to the canvas.
The No. 1 team in the nation fought back to win 80-71, as the Huskies (7-0) beat Notre Dame (7-1) for the seventh consecutive occasion, giving the Irish their first loss of the season.
In the first quarter, neither team appeared to have an obvious advantage, with the score tied five times in the period. Although both teams traded leads, the Huskies came out on top at the end of the period, taking a four-point lead to start the period. Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale, who had been the Irish leading scorer this season, struggled to open the game as she couldn’t get her shot to fall. After averaging 20.9 points per game going into the contest on 46.7 percent shooting, Ogunbowale missed all six of her first-quarter attempts and was held without a point. Junior guard Marina Mabrey, who averaged only 10.3 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting going into the game, led the Irish offense in the first quarter with eight points and two assists.
The Huskies started the second half the way they ended the first, stretching their lead to eight points. But Ogunbowale, after missing her seventh shot of the game earlier in the period, returned to form and led the Irish fightback. Ogunbowale scored seven consecutive points in 63 seconds to tie the score before her Irish teammates joined in on the action, as the Irish stretched the lead to 12 points on a 24-4 run, though the Huskies cut the lead back to seven points, closing the half with a three-pointer from junior forward Katie Lou Samuelson on her return from a foot injury. The seven point halftime deficit for the Huskies was their second-largest of the last three years, less than only the eight-point hole they found themselves in at halftime of their 2017 NCAA tournament defeat to Mississippi State, which broke their record 111-straight win streak.
Early in the third quarter, it looked like Connecticut may have found their way back into the game, as Samuelson deflected a pass for a steal, scored a layup, took a charge and got to the line all in under 45 seconds midway through the quarter. Samuelson made one of two free throws to close the score to 51-48, but the Irish turned the lead back to seven points less than a minute later and 10 late in the quarter, holding a 62-54 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Graduate student guard Lili Thompson scored a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter, and with the Irish ahead by 11 points, Samuelson returned to the locker room after she re-injured her foot, joining fellow preseason All-American Gabby Williams — who missed the entire second half after dealing with migraines in recent weeks — as a Connecticut injury concern.
Yet the Irish couldn’t knock the Huskies out.
Azura Stevens, Crystal Dangerfield and Kia Nurse cut the Irish lead to one point, before Stevens gave the Huskies back the lead.
After hauling in 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, the Irish were outrebounded 14-5 in the fourth quarter. McGraw said that rebounds made a very significant difference on the day,
“We did a great job rebounding in the first half, we did not do a great job in the second half,” McGraw said. “There were some plays where we got a hand on it tipped it but they got it and made a layup. That made a big difference.
“We just had a stretch of ugly. Unfortunately it was in the last five minutes of the game.”
An Ogunbowale layup 20 seconds later proved to be the last Irish field goal of the game as Connecticut began to pull away before the Irish were forced to foul. Junior forward Napheesa Collier’s two free throws to stretch the lead to 77-70 with 41 seconds left seemed to put the game out of reach, and the Irish could only score a single free throw in the dying seconds, as the game ended 80-71.
“I think if you learn something when you lose it’s a good thing, and I think we learned a lot, especially defensively with what we have to do,” McGraw said. “I’m very pleased with where we are right now, especially looking at the stretch we’ve just come through. Seven straight on the road and four straight ranked teams, it seemed like a hundred. We definitely are peaking. We’re getting to where we need to get to.”