Women’s Basketball: The No. 2 Huskies playing the unfamiliar underdog role against No. 1 Notre Dame

 The UConn women's basketball team takes on DePaul University at the XL Center on November 28, 2018. The game resulted in a 99-63 win for the Huskies (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

The UConn women’s basketball team takes on DePaul University at the XL Center on November 28, 2018. The game resulted in a 99-63 win for the Huskies (Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus)

The last time UConn played against Notre Dame, it ended in devastation. The Final Four was the scene of a crushing defeat against the eventual National Champion Fighting Irish. It was the night that Arike Ogunbowale channeled her “mamba mentality” to step back and fire the game-winning shot against the Huskies to send UConn packing. The Huskies will have the opportunity for revenge Sunday at 4:00 p.m. in Indiana, but the game will be televised on ESPN and on the airwaves at 97.9 ESPN radio.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma talked about what is the most difficult aspect of dealing with last year’s loss in the Final Four.

“Some moves or some decisions that I made along the way in the course of the game that I wish I had back,” Auriemma said. “That kind of stays with you a long, long time. That almost never goes away because you have control over them, the other stuff you don’t.”

This is a very different UConn team than the one that played Notre Dame last season. The Huskies lost a tremendous amount of experience in Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams and size with Azura Stevens. DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, who has played against Notre Dame and
UConn this season, said the biggest difference between the two teams are not talent.

UConn and Notre Dame always plays each other in a really tough way

— Katie Lou Samuelson

“I think Notre Dame is probably a bit more experienced,” Bruno said. “I think both of these teams can win the National Championship … Arike, I think is really a better player this year off the confidence that she gained from the Final Four.”

Auriemma said that he is not only looking to leave South Bend with a win, but to see how his younger starters handle the rowdy environment.

“You want Christyn [Williams] and Megan [Walker] to do whatever they have to do to help us win the game,” Auriemma said. “I want them to play great. I want them to feel what it feels like to be in that kind of environment against really good players.”

Some of those really good players obviously include Ogunbowale, who averages 24.5 points per game, which is fifth in the country. However, Ogunbowale is not the only talented player, Jackie Young has been able to score 18.3 points per game on 55 percent shooting. Notre Dame also has the size to potentially out rebound the Huskies. The 6-foot-4 Jessica Shepard is averaging a double-double including 11.4 rebounds per game. Senior Napheesa Collier will have to battle down low, while having her teammates assist her in attacking for rebounds.

Senior Katie Lou Samuelson who leads the team in scoring (20) and is also second for rebounds (6.2), said she is looking forward to the rivalry game Sunday and the opportunity for her teammates to step up.

“I’m excited. I love playing away games with really good crowds and I know they are gonna have a great crowd there,” Samuelson said. “I don’t know if you could say we are the underdog, but I think it’s funny that it probably is one of the first times that we have that opportunity to kind of prove ourselves and show what we can do rather than just holding onto something.”

The last time the Huskies took on Notre Dame in the regular season, UConn won a tightly contested matchup 80-71. Auriemma said the team cannot get too carried away about a regular season game. Samuelson echoed her coach’s sentiments and just wants to see the team take another step forward.

“It’s so early in the season that right now we’re just trying to go in and really see where we’re at as a team and see what we can do,” Samuelson said. “We have an opportunity for a lot of people that haven’t been in this situation to step up.”

Samuelson did acknowledge that there will be an extra level of intensity for the rivalry matchup.

“Clearly, we have a lot of emotions, a lot of things going into this game that isn’t necessarily there with every other team [we play],” Samuelson said. “UConn and Notre Dame always plays each other in a really tough way.”


Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.logan@uconn.edu.

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