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Know Your Enemy: The Connecticut Huskies

Apr 7, 2013, 1:15 AM EDT

A quick look back at how we got here: As the only one seed that didn’t host in the first round, the Irish didn’t have home court advantage to start the tournament as Stanford, Connecticut and Baylor did.

Instead. the Irish flew to Iowa City to kick off the long dance, easily dispatching 16 seed Tennessee-Martin 97-66 and hometown favorite nine seed Iowa 74-57. From there it was off to Norfolk, Virginia for the regional finals and wins against twelve seed Kansas 93-63 and two seed Duke 87-76.

The Irish have, in other words, played four straight games away from home, including a second round road game against a hometown crowd. They’ve been tested, and they’ve passed the tests to this point.

So what’s the next test?

Who else? Connecticut, naturally.

There isn’t a team that the Irish know better than the BIG EAST rival Huskies. They’ve played three times this season, including the BIG EAST Tournament Championship game, and the Irish have won all three. In fact, the Irish have taken seven of the last eight from the Huskies.

The problem is that no matter how lop-sided the overall record between the two teams has been of late, every game has been a nail biter. Let’s review, shall we?

2012 National Semifinal: Notre Dame 83, Connecticut 75 (OT)

Natalie Novosel led the Irish with 20 points, and Brittany Mallory, scoreless from three point range in regulation, hit two key threes as part of an eight point Irish run in overtime to win and end Connecticut’s season for the second straight year.

January 5, 2013: #5 Notre Dame 73 at #1 Connecticut 72

Skylar Diggins was the star for the Irish, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers at a key point in the second half with UCONN threatening to pull away. Diggins would also hit two free throws towards the end of regulation that would put the Irish ahead for good, but UCONN’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had to miss a wide-open 3-pointer to preserve the win for the Irish.

March 4, 2013: #3 Connecticut 87 at #2 Notre Dame 96 (3 OT)

On the return leg in South Bend, the Irish trailed UCONN by six in the first overtime and five in the second before eventually gritting out a win. UCONN out shot the irish 46%-39% but turned the ball over 35 times and missed key free throws in the overtime periods that allowed the Irish to stay in the game. The win clinched the Irish’s second straight regular season BIG EAST Championship.

March 12, 2013, BIG EAST Tournament Championship: #2 Notre Dame 61, #3 Connecticut 59

In the last BIG EAST Tournament Championship game, the Irish finally won largely on the strength of Skylar Diggins’ stealing the ball from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, moving it full court, drawing a triple team and then finding a wide open Natalie Achonwa under the basket for the winning layup with 1.8 to go. Connecticut was 0-5 from 3-point range. It was the first time in 19 years that the Huskies didn’t win either the regular season or the tournament championship.


And Now…?

…that brings us to this point: a rematch of last year’s National Semifinal in Denver (and a re-rematch of 2011’s National Semifinal in Indianapolis). Notre Dame vs. Connecticut. Winner advances to the title game to play either Lousiville or California, and if recent history is any guide, it’s fair to assume that Sunday’s game will be hard-fought, excruciatingly tight and ultimately, heart-breaking for one program and exhilarating for the other.

Because that’s what Notre Dame vs. Connecticut is all about.

Here’s what you need to know about Sunday’s matchup:

Watching the Game:

  • The game is scheduled to tip off at 9:00 pm eastern (i apologize for having the wrong time here earlier. I can assure you it’s 9:00 pm eastern).
  • Television: ESPN will air the game
  • On the global series of inter-connected tubes: ESPN 3 will have the live web stream, but only for subscribers of certain cable platforms so check in advance to confirm.
  • In your ears only: Our very own Bob Nagle, legendary voice of Notre Dame Women’s Basketball, will have the radio call on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)
  • Venue: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana

Getting to know Connecticut

  • Mascot: Huskies
  • 2012-13 Record: 33-4 overall, 14-2 in the BIG EAST. Three losses were to the Fighting Irish, the fourth was to then #1 Baylor
  • Connecticut is the one seed out of the Hartford Region
  • The Huskies are one of the two most dominant programs in Women’s Basketball History. They’ve advanced to 12 Final Fours and have won 7 national championships including back-to-back-to-back championships in 2002-2004
  • Head Coach: Geno Auriemma in his 27th season at Connecticut. Six-time Naismith National Coach of the Year
  • How they got here: Connecticut hasn’t actually left Connecticut to play a game in the tournament, and they were fed powerhouse 16 seed Idaho in round one whom they beat 105-37 (that’s not a typo). They went on to more pedestrian wins against Vanderbilt (77-44), Maryland (76-50) and 2 seed Kentucky whom they beat in the regional championship game 83-53.
  • Notre Dame Connection: Mike Enright, formerly of the Notre Dame Media Relations department now runs Sports Information for Connecticut.

The Case for Connecticut

Yes, the Irish have had the Huskies number if you look only at the record over the last eight meetings, the problem is that in each one, the Irish needed some key help from the Huskies themselves in order to win. Has Notre Dame seen Connecticut’s best effort yet? Can the Huskies string together a perfect game and turn the tables on the Irish?

The Case for Notre Dame

Simply put, the Irish know they can win, having taken 7 of the last 8 and ending Connecticut’s season for the last two years. The Irish know the Huskies better than anyone and no matter how much UCONN would like you to believe that their losses are exclusively a product of them beating themselves, the Irish still made the plays they needed to win all those games.

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