Williams scored 16 of her season-high 28 points in the first quarter to help the No. 2 Huskies dominate No. 1 Notre Dame 89-71 on Sunday.
“Christyn adds a big dimension to our team,” Auriemma said of his 5-foot-11 guard from Little Rock, Arkansas. “She’s fearless. I was upset we didn’t give it to her more in the second quarter (when Williams had zero points). I wish she was 6-3. She is one of the rare individuals that comes along that know who they are. She knows who she is.”
Williams hit 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on way to making 11 of 16 in the game to lead five Huskies in double figures. Her 16 first-quarter points were one off her previous game high of 17 points against Purdue on Nov. 24.
“I didn’t even know I did that,” Williams said. “I was just being aggressive, listening to my coaches and playing off my teammates. We wanted this one bad.”
It was Williams‘ basket with 6:36 left in the first quarter that gave UConn an 8-6 lead that it would not relinquish against Muffet McGraw’s 7-1 Irish, who saw their 28-game winning streak at home ended by the Huskies. UConn has all three victories against Notre Dame in its last 100 home games at the Purcell Pavilion.
Napheesa Collier had 16 points along with 15 rebounds and three blocks, All-American Katie Lou Samuelson had 15 points after being held scoreless in the first half, Crystal Dangerfield scored 13 points and Megan Walker added 12 for the 7-0 Huskies.
“I thought Christyn Williams was phenomenal,” McGraw said of the player the Irish also tried to recruit. “She was the real difference in the game.”
Jackie Young, who had 32 points in the teams’ last meeting in the NCAA semifinals when the Irish won 91-89 in overtime on Arike Ogunbowale’s first of two buzzer-beaters in the Women’s Final Four, led five Irish players in double figures with 18 points.
Ogunbowale finished with 17 points, but only five after halftime, and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Irish. Jessica Shepard had 13 points, Marina Mabrey 11 and Brianna Turner had 10 points and four blocks for Notre Dame.
“I thought a defensive transition was poor, I thought our half-court defense was poor, I thought our offensive execution was poor and then we lost our poise and that was unexpected,” McGraw said. “This time, the team we played was good enough to take advantage of it. We’re a better team than we showed.”
UConn led 27-22 after the first quarter and 44-41 at halftime despite getting no points from the 6-foot-3 Samuelson, who was 0-for-7 from the field. But she helped in other areas with six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal.
“To be up whatever we were at halftime without Lou getting a basket, that was a good sign for us,” Auriemma said.
The Huskies increased their lead to 65-59 heading into the final quarter and then steadily pulled away. Samuelson hit a three-point play for a 74-64 lead with 6:08 to play. She then hit a pair of technical free throws for a 79-66 lead after Ogunbowale and Auriemma exchanged words and the Irish player was hit with a technical with 4:25 to play.
McGraw eventually took out Ogunbowale with 1:43 remaining when she received an unsportsmanlike foul and Dangerfield hit two free throws for an 89-70 lead.
Connecticut: Auriemma used just six players in the game. While Samuelson struggled in the first half, the Huskies showed off a new star in the making in 5-foot-11 freshman guard Williams. Auriemma was asked afterward what he did Sunday to beat Notre Dame that he didn’t do in the 91-89 overtime loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA semifinals March 30 in Columbus, Ohio.
“We threw the ball to Christyn Williams but she was in high school last year,” Auriemma joked. “I would have thrown it to her last year but she wasn’t around. I would have gotten a recruiting violation.”
Notre Dame: The Irish started four players who started in their 91-89 overtime victory over UConn in the NCAA semifinals but didn’t look like the veteran team except for Ogunbowale, who was the only player in double figures at halftime with 12 points. Ogunbowale, whose buzzer-beating jumper was the difference the last time the two teams met in March, made only five points after halftime.
AURIEMMA VS. ARIKE
Auriemma and Ogunbowale had different explanations for the technical foul called against the Irish All-American in the fourth quarter with 4:23 remaining and the Irish trailing 77-66.
“Not necessarily,” Auriemma said when asked if he and the Irish player were exchanging words. “I was just making comments about stuff going on out on the floor. I was talking to the officials. And she gave me one of those and I asked, ‘What is that?’ And the next thing I know it’s a technical foul.”
Ogunbowale saw things differently.
“I think we fed right into what they wanted – he baited a lot of us and we lost our poise like she (McGraw) said,” Ogunbowale said. “As seniors and leaders on this team, we can’t let that happen. That definitely was a momentum change.”
Neither team shot particularly well – Connecticut finished the game at 45.3 percent (34 of 75) from the field and Notre Dame finished at 40.3 percent (27 of 67) including just 8.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line where the Irish made just 1 of 12 (by Mabrey, who missed five others). UConn won the battle of the boards 46-41 and had 16 assists, six more than Notre Dame, which usually doubles that when it is moving the ball around.
“This is going to allow us to look at things a little more objectively and to move forward,” McGraw said. “We’ve got a long way to go. I think we’re a really good team and we will be a really good team, but tonight we weren’t.”
Connecticut: Tuesday at Saint Louis.
Notre Dame: Saturday at Toledo.
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