The best women’s college basketball rivalry is set to renew Saturday when third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-0) travel to Gampel Pavilion and face the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies (5-0). Tip-off is set for 5:15 and will be televised live on ESPN.
This is the 45th meeting between the powerhouse programs, with UConn owning a 33-11 series lead, according to the Hartford Courant. The Huskies have won the last four meetings.
There have been several great games in the series, but the best one may have occurred two seasons ago when the Irish went on to win their second straight Big East championship. Notre Dame came back from deficits in each of the first two overtime periods before winning 96-87 in triple overtime. Skylar Diggins led the way for the Fighting Irish with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kayla McBride added 26 points.
“It’s always super exciting for us to play Notre Dame around here,” UConn sophomore guard Kia Nurse said. “Any time we get to play home in front of a great crowd and fun atmosphere, it’s a good time.”
While both teams enter undefeated, the game lacks its usual luster, as the Irish come in pretty banged up. Preseason Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Brianna Turner is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, and junior forward Taya Reimer has missed two of the past three games with a sore Achilles. Plus, highly touted freshman guard Ali Patberg has not played this season due to a torn ACL.
The Daily Journal reports that Turner was hurt during practice last week. The six-foot-three forward has missed three games this season but is still the team’s leading rebounder (6.8) and second-leading scorer (14.3). Reimer also has played in just four games and is averaging 6.3 points along with 3.3 rebounds in 19.7 minutes. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said that Reimer’s availability is a game-time decision for the game against UConn.
“Taya was cleared to play and she is allowed to play up to her pain tolerance. We are going to have to manage that and see how her soreness is. With Brianna, we are deciding whether to have surgery right away or to play in a brace. That is what they are discussing right now. We will probably think about it for 24 hours. She can’t play for the next week, so we’ll have some time to think it over.”
Graduate student Madison Cable leads the Irish with a team-high 16.4 points along with a team-best 33 three-pointers (55.6 percent 3-point shooter on the season). She has been terrific the past two games, posting two straight 20-point games and grabbing a total of 20 boards in wins against UCLA and Ohio State. Cable posted a double-double (25 points, 11 rebounds) in Notre Dame’s 75-72 victory over Ohio State on Wednesday. Sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld (12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) and freshman guard Marina Mabrey (11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds) also average double figures.
Notre Dame has won their seven games by an average margin of over 26 points but defeated Ohio State by three (75-72) and needed overtime to beat UCLA (92-84) in the past two games. The Irish’s other victories are over Bucknell, Toledo, South Dakota State, Valparaiso, and Denver. Notre Dame is averaging 86.4 points and giving up 59.9 points this season. They are shooting 49.0 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.
UConn is coming off its toughest challenge of the season, defeating No. 23 DePaul (86-70) on Wednesday. The Huskies are scoring 90.0 points a game and surrendering 52.0 points a contest. They are shooting 54.0 percent from the field while holding opponents to 33.9 percent from the floor.
— UConn Women’s Hoops (@UConnWBB) December 3, 2015
Preseason National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart is playing at a high-caliber. The six-foot-four senior forward is averaging 23.4 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 61.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. Redshirt junior Moriah Jefferson is also shooting lights out (69.0 percent) while averaging 13.2 points and dishing out a team-high 29 dimes. Redshirt junior Morgan Tuck (13.0 points and 6.8 rebounds) and sophomore guard Gabby Williams (10.0 points and 9.6 caroms) also average double figures.
[Image via Connecticut WBB Twitter]