ND Women’s Basketball
No. 1 Irish take first loss of the season against no. 2 UConn at home
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, December 3, 2018
The so-called team of destiny that took down Connecticut in the national semifinal last season did not show up against the Huskies (7-0) on Sunday. While the Irish kept pace with the Huskies throughout the first half and deep into the second, a series of sloppy plays and weak shooting throughout the game led to frustration for Notre Dame (7-1), and the team ultimately unraveled, yielding a 89-71 loss.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was disappointed in her team’s effort after the game.
“I was disappointed for the fans. They came out and gave a great effort and we didn’t,” she said.
The Irish struck first — graduate student forward Brianna Turner won the tip and senior forward Jessica Shepard laid the ball in, giving Notre Dame one of its only leads of the game.
From there, it was back and forth as the teams traded points at either end of the court. The first quarter proved to be highest-scoring for both teams, but led by freshman guard Christyn Williams, the Huskies edged ahead of the Irish by five points.
Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale was Notre Dame’s main contributor in the first half, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds.
While both the Irish and the Huskies — the Huskies in particular — are known for their 3-point shooting, both squads had off days from behind the arc, as the Irish failed to hit a single 3-pointer in the entire first half and the Huskies went 3-12 from 3-point range.
“They were really open, I thought. I thought our defense was poor. They got a lot of wide-open shots, wide-open looks that they were able to make,” McGraw said. “Transition, I thought we didn’t match up well and they were getting wide-open looks.”
The second quarter was arguably Notre Dame’s best, as it outscored Connecticut 19-17 and was able to swing the momentum in its favor heading into the half.
Notre Dame cut the UConn lead to two points with six-and-a-half minutes left in the half as the Irish turned up the defensive intensity momentarily. But within minutes, the Huskies had regained control as the Irish defense lapsed, and suddenly the Huskies led by eight points.
After a 30-second timeout called by McGraw with 2:37 remaining in the half, the Irish came out with renewed vigor. Immediately, junior guard Jackie Young scored in the paint, and while freshman forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa was fouled and went 1-2 from the line, Turner made a shot to follow up in the paint, followed by senior guard Marina Mabrey going 2-2 at the line, to cut the lead to three going into the locker room, the Huskies leading 44-41.
While the momentum was all in Notre Dame’s favor coming out of halftime, the Huskies did not let that stop them, going on a 4-0 run right out of the gate from halftime. Less than four minutes into the third quarter, the Huskies had extended their lead to nine points.
“I thought that a lot of the problems we’ve been having all year really surfaced again and this year, the team was good enough to take advantage of it,” McGraw said. “I thought our transition defense was poor, I thought our half-court defense was poor. … I thought our execution was poor.”
The Irish cut it back to two points, in part thanks to Notre Dame’s only 3-pointer of the game by Mabrey. But between Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, the Huskies extended the lead back to eight points with just over one minute to play in the third and the Irish went into the final frame down by six after Ogunbowale made two free throws.
However, that final frame is where the wheels really came off for Notre Dame, as the Irish were outscored 24-12. As the Huskies’ lead grew, Notre Dame’s play grew increasingly sloppy, going 4-14 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc.
“We lost our poise. That was unexpected,” McGraw said. “I was really disappointed to see the veterans that we have not rise to the occasion. I think we’re a better team than we showed.”
When Notre Dame was down by 11 with 4:25 to play, Ogunbowale was called for a technical foul, as she and Auriemma exchanged words near the UConn bench in an exchange apparently initiated by the Huskies head coach.
“He said some words and I fed right into it and said something back. As a senior leader, I definitely can’t do that,” Ogunbowale said. “I have to keep my composure in a time like that.”
After the technical, the Irish veterans struggled to keep their composure, as UConn players went to the line five more times in the remainder of the game. Connecticut scored 17 points from the line on the day. The Irish were only able to score five more points after Ogunbowale’s technical. The senior guard was also called for an unsportsmanlike foul with 1:43 remaining.
“I think we fed right into what they wanted. He baited a lot of us and we lost our poise like [McGraw] said and as seniors and leaders of this team, you can’t let that happen,” Ogunbowale said. “That definitely was a momentum change, so we definitely have to change that from here on out. … I think even before the end of the game we were kind of not playing our game leading up to that, so I think if we changed some stuff that happened before that, I don’t think we would have been in that situation.”
McGraw said, despite her disappointment in the loss and her team’s level of play, she’s going to use the game as a launching pad moving into conference play and she hopes her team can take what it learns from the game and move forward.
“It’s not the first time we’ve faced adversity. I think we’ve been lucky to win. We’ve been in the situation where we’ve gotten ourselves down and we’ve come back,” McGraw said. “We always had that spurt. We always had that spurt in us — that five minutes where everything was going to go right. And tonight we didn’t have it. I think it was good for us. I think it’s going to allow us to really look at things a little more objectively and to move on and move forward from here.”