Notre Dame vs. UConn Takeaways


Sunday’s marquee matchup featuring two college basketball titans included plenty of subplots, big runs from both teams and plenty of “ugly” as Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw put it. Connecticut Sun Head Coach Curt Miller chimed in on Twitter: “Not sure I have seen a run like this against UCONN in years. But then in the fourth quarter, as they are wont to do, UConn clamped down on defense and started making the layups they were missing early in the game. They outscored the Irish 26-9 in the final stanza to win 80-71. Here are a few of my takeaways from the game.

Takeaway 1: A Tale of Two Transfers
In post-game comments, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma commented how Azurá Stevens is still learning the Husky way but is getting better every game. He wants her to move with a purpose to take advantage of her skills and not just “float” where she might get the ball at the 3-pt line. With her size, she was dominant in the fourth quarter rebounding and scoring layups. If she continues to improve moving without the ball and making plays like the one below, she is going to be unguardable. Auriemma says Stevens is a great 3-pt shooter, but the Huskies have a few of those already. The teams needs her to be a force down low.

Jessica Shepard, a transfer to Notre Dame, really impressed. She showed her ability to confuse defenses and get in position for easy baskets. She too is still learning to play with her Notre Dame teammates and will only improve. She will be a big part of Notre Dame’s puzzle come March.

Takeaway 2: Injuries will Test Depth
Both teams are battling injuries. As Notre Dame was making preparations for this game, they lost Mikayla Vaughn for the season due to a knee injury. Katie Lou Samuelson provided drama with her returning from a foot injury then going out injured again with an ankle problem. Gabby Williams sat on the bench for the entire second half and speculation abounded about why she was not playing. Later we would find out she is continuing to experience issues with migraine headaches. Not often that a team has two first-team All-Americans unavailable and overcome a big deficit to a top team in the fourth quarter.

Takeaway 3: UConn player versatility
The Huskies currently do not have a generational star like Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore or Diana Taurasi. However, all of their players do at least one thing very well, according to Auriemma. This means for the Huskies to play well in all phases of the game against a good team, each player has to excel in their particular talent. Auriemma cited Megan Walker as an example saying she is proving she can get critical rebounds. He wants her to focus on rebounding and not worry so much about the other stuff yet. To beat and really beat the best teams in the country, each Husky will have to focus on doing her job.

Takeaway 4: Notre Dame is going to get better
When UConn and Notre Dame were both in the Big East, they played each other a lot. It would not be surprising if the two teams play each other again in the Final Four. The Irish have already beaten four top-25 teams including South Carolina and they will be battle tested with major foes including Louisville, Duke and Tennessee before the regular season ends. They will do fine.

Full audio from Auriemma’s post-game press conference: