No. 2 UConn 78, No. 8 Notre Dame 57
TURNING POINT – The Huskies led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but could not pull away from the Irish. Their lead was 37-29 at halftime. In the first 7:02 of the second half, though, UConn proved to be a different team. And a close game was smashed by 16-4 run.
Tiffany Hayes and Maya Moore opened the half with back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of 47 seconds. The Huskies later capped the run with eight straight points to open a 53-33 lead with 11:55 left in the game. The Irish did not get closer than 14 the rest of the way.
“We were just aggressive,’’ Moore said. “The first half we didn’t attack them. We let them set the tone and that isn’t acceptable. We all went in at halftime furious with ourselves knowing that’s not going to work. We did do a few things right, but I feel like setting the tone wasn’t one of those things that we controlled. And that’s what we had to do. And Notre Dame did a great job of being aggressive. They’re an extremely aggressive team. So I think Lorin Dixon did a great job of talking and speaking up at halftime. And Caroline (Doty) … just remembering we’ve got another half. We’ve got to change the tempo and take control of the game again.’’
UNSUNG HERO – With Moore navigating her way through a pedestrian offensive effort of 12 points in 34 minutes, it was the trio of Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Hayes who rose up to carry the Huskies. They combined for 57 points on 22-of-34 shooting (6-of-10 3-pointers).
“We noticed that (Friday) in practice,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We tried to just put a couple different scenarios in and one of them was the other five guys playing without Maya and not having the benefit of her being on the floor and the attention she draws and all the other things that she does. I think it’s important going forward that we have to become comfortable if Maya’s not in the game for whatever reason, whether it’s fouls or whatever. Or she’s not able to get going. She’s not able to do the things that she normally does in a game. And I thought (Saturday) was a big step forward. I think Tiffany, Bria especially, and Stefanie made the kind of plays they need to make and didn’t stand around and feel sorry for themselves because Maya wasn’t able to be Maya. And if you look at the game objectively, for us to win the way we won against a really, really good team, and two of our really key guys just didn’t play anywhere near their normal games – Maya and Kelly Faris – and yet we were still able to do that. That’s a good sign going down the road.’’
Hartley had career-highs of 29 points (10-of-16 FG) and five 3-pointers in 37 minutes. Dolson had 15 points (7-of-11 FG) in 34 minutes, reaching double figures in scoring in a season-high fifth straight game. And Hayes finished with 13 points (5-of-7 FG) in a team-high 38 minutes.
Moore did not score for the first 14:32 of the game. But before she did on a driving layup the Huskies held a 26-21 lead thanks to 10 points from Hartley, eight from Dolson and six from Hayes.
“It’s a real challenge to the rest of the players because if they’re not careful they’re going to be viewed as Maya and a bunch of guys who play well when Maya plays well,’’ Auriemma said. “And I think it’s important that they establish themselves in their own right. When Maya’s playing great then we’ll win by 30 or 40. If Maya’s not playing well, then they’ve got to be able to impact the game and carry us when they have to. And it’s a lot to ask.’’
BEST ‘X’ AND/OR ‘O’ – Again, it wasn’t anything that was drawn up in a timeout or on the board in the locker room before the game. The Huskies were simply tougher than the Irish in Saturday’s rematch. And it started with Dolson, who went toe-to-toe with physical Notre Dame senior Becca Bruszewski.
“It’s definitely not an emphasis to do what she was doing,’’ Dolson said. “It’s just more about just being aggressive. That was definitely an emphasis (Saturday), attacking them and just going hard. She was playing hard, but I wasn’t going to step back and get on my heels. So I went back at her, and I just did it in a different way. I just attacked the rim and the rebounds.’’
Many of the Huskies came away with scratches on their arms. Dolson and Faris were hit in the face. But UConn limited Notre Dame to only nine second chance points on 15 offensive rebounds, as opposed to 18 on 23 offensive rebounds in the first game in South Bend Jan. 8. The Irish also had only 20 points in the paint. They had 38 in the first meeting.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS – The 29-point effort by Hartley was the most by a UConn freshman since Moore had 29 at LSU Feb 25, 2008. Moore twice scored 31 points that season against Holy Cross Nov. 14, 2007 and Marquette Feb. 20, 2008. … It’s safe to say that Hartley’s right ankle is no longer an issue. Not only did she batter the Irish offensively, but she also logged 37 minutes. She is averaging 33.8 minutes over the last four games. “It’s a lot better,’’ Hartley said. “It’s definitely improved. So I try not to think about it most of the time.’’ … Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was clearly disappointed by the fact that the Irish could not capitalize on the subpar scoring effort by Moore. It was only the 16th time in 143 games that she has scored 12 points or less in a game. “On a night when Maya’s playing like a human person, I think that Hartley got a lot of the shots that she would normally have gotten,’’ McGraw said. “She was wide open. She really shot it well. That’s obviously the best that I’ve seen her. Of course, I’ve only seen her that one other game. But she shot extremely well. And even after she started scoring we still didn’t guard her. So that was disappointing.’’ … Moore did finish with a team-high seven rebounds (tying Hayes) and a game-high seven assists. “I don’t know that Maya was much of a leader in that first half, and that’s why we struggled so much early on in that first 10 minutes,’’ Auriemma said. “And then when we came out, especially when we came at the start of the second half, and Maya was more involved and all of a sudden we look like a whole different team when she’s playing the way she played. It’s not all about the points. It’s how many other things that she’s able to do to impact the game. No question about it.’’ … After seeing Hartley and Dolson combine for 44 points, Auriemma raved about the progress they have made. “As you get deeper into the season, it’s how much a part of the offense or defense you want to make yourself,’’ Auriemma said. “Some kids take themselves out because they don’t feel comfortable. Both Bria and Stefanie are starting more and more to force themselves onto the game. And how do you do that? If you’re Stefanie and you really want the ball, then you act like that and carry yourself like that in the lane and demand the ball, and we’ll throw it to you. And that wasn’t happening when we first played them.
If you’re Bria Hartley, you’re coming out there and you can’t wait to catch it and look to shoot it as opposed to should I or shouldn’t I or maybe I will or maybe I won’t. So as the season goes on and kids become more comfortable they start to just play without thinking about should I or shouldn’t I.’’ … McGraw also had praise for Dolson: “I think they’re looking for her more and she’s delivering,’’ McGraw said. “She’s really, really big, and very hard to guard when she gets deep in the paint and she’s able to just turn and shoot with her not dribbling. It makes it hard to double-team her because you can’t get there fast enough. So I think she’s improved quite a bit since the beginning of the year.’’ … McGraw has now lost 11 straight games against UConn. “I have tremendous respect for their program, for Maya and their players,’’ McGraw said. “They’re a great team and they have done great things for the Big East. So I have nothing but respect for them.’’ … A recruiting source confirmed that Xylina McDaniel, a 6-foot-1 forward from Blythewood, S.C., has in fact been offered a scholarship by UConn. Malina Howard, a 6-5 post player from Twinsburg, Ohio who made unofficial visit this weekend, does not yet have an offer.
LOOKING AHEAD – The Huskies (26-1, 13-0 Big East) will host Seton Hall (8-18, 1-12) at the XL Center Tuesday night (7; CPTV). UConn has won 26 straight games against the Pirates and 41 of 42 overall.
Seton Hall, who has lost 11 of its last 12 games, is coming off of a 62-54 loss to Villanova Saturday.
BY THE NUMBERS
6 – Career-high in steals for Kelly Faris Saturday
22 – Assists on 29 field goals against Notre Dame (75.9 percent)
51.8 – Shooting percentage for the Huskies in the first half this season