No luck needed for Irish against Connecticut, 90-75

Notre Dame ensures new women's champ

March 31, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - It's a given that most movie sequels aren't as entertaining as the originals, but they can be entertaining. Basketball games can follow the same pattern, as did Round 3 of the Connecticut-Notre Dame women's basketball series.

The Huskies and Irish staged a classic in the Big East tournament championship earlier this month, with Connecticut winning at the horn. For a half, it looked like the defending champion Huskies would blow the Irish out of the national semifinals.

But, thanks to sizzling outside shooting and a lot of grit, No. 2 Notre Dame earned the right to play for the program's first national championship with a stirring 90-75 comeback win over top-ranked Connecticut here at the Savvis Center.

"We have had two great basketball games [with UConn]," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "Things last night were more like they were at Notre Dame [a 92-76 win in January]. The game at Connecticut [an 82-80 Huskies win] was terrific. Basketball fans were expecting a great basketball game, and that's what they got."

Trailing by 12 at the half, Notre Dame, which spent three weeks at the top of the polls in January for the first time in the program's history, went on a 24-11 run to take a 61-60 lead with 12:04 to go, with sophomore Alicia Ratay hitting the go-ahead basket, a three-pointer from the right corner.

"We knew we had 20 more minutes, no matter what the score was," Notre Dame's Niele Ivey said. "I think the leadership we have came together."

Connecticut retook the lead when Tamika Williams went backdoor for a layup, but the Irish ripped off a 7-0 run, punctuated by a three-pointer from Ratay and two free throws from reserve Jeneka Joyce, pressed into service when senior forward Kelley Siemon picked up her fourth foul with 12:04 to go.

The Irish (33-2) got a major scare when Ivey, a St. Louis native who has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees, crumpled to the floor with 5:47 to go after Connecticut's Diana Taurasi dove for a loose ball, cutting under Ivey. With a sprained left ankle, Ivey returned to the game with 3:25 to go, finishing with 21 points to pace five Irish players in double figures.

Connecticut (32-3), which had bottled up Notre Dame senior center Ruth Riley in the first half, holding her to only two points, couldn't contain her in the second half, as Riley had 16 to lead the Irish rally.

The Huskies thoroughly dominated Notre Dame from end to end in the first half, controlling the tempo even as two key members of their backcourt, the freshman Taurasi and sophomore Kennitra Johnson, picked up three fouls.

It didn't seem to matter, as Connecticut, which began and ended the season ranked at the top of the national polls, choked off the Irish interior attack with a 2-3 zone that dared Notre Dame to shoot from the outside, at first glance a foolhardy move, given that the Irish shot 50 percent from the floor overall for the season and a blistering 47 percent from three-point range.

The defensive gambit paid off, as Riley played only 12 minutes in the half. And while Ivey hit two of her three three-point attempts, the rest of the Irish took only three three-pointers, hitting two. Overall, Notre Dame shot 37 percent in the half. Ivey led the team with 12 points.

Meanwhile, the Huskies weren't crisp offensively, hitting only 44 percent from the floor, but they were aggressive, attempting nine more shots than Notre Dame, and making six more baskets in the half.

And at the core of the Connecticut attack was Sue Bird, who coolly and efficiently ran the offense, hitting big baskets and distributing the ball. Her first three-pointer at the 12:36 mark gave the Huskies a seven-point lead, and she found reserve guard Maria Conlon for a layup to give the Huskies a 16-point lead.

But Ratay's three-pointer with seven seconds to go in the half cut the Notre Dame deficit to 12 at intermission and gave the Irish some momentum going into the dressing room.

NOTRE DAME-Haney 4-12 7-9 15, Siemon 5-12 1-2 11, Riley 6-13 6-10 18, Ratay 6-10 4-4 20, Ivey 5-9 8-8 21, Joyce 1-1 2-3 5, Hernandez 0-0 0-0 0, Barksdale 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 28-36 90. CONNECTICUT-Taurasi 1-15 2-3 4, Cash 2-4 4-8 8, Schumacher 5-13 2-3 12, Bird 7-21 0-0 18, Jones 1-2 5-8 7, Conlon 3-6 1-1 8, Valley 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 2-9 3-3 8, Williams 5-7 0-0 10. Totals 26-77 17-26 75.

Half-Connecticut, 49-37. 3-Point Goals-Notre Dame 8-11 (Ratay 4-5, Ivey 3-5, Joyce 1-1), Connecticut 6-30 (Bird 4-11, Conlon 1-3, Johnson 1-4, Schumacher 0-1, Taurasi 0-11). Fouled out-Jones, Taurasi. Rebounds-Notre Dame 43 (Haney 10), Connecticut 51 (Schumacher 17). Assists-Notre Dame 16 (Siemon 6), Connecticut 18 (Taurasi 5). Total fouls-Notre Dame 17, Connecticut 28. A-20,551

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