No. 2 UConn at No. 1 Notre Dame

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports -

When: Sun­day, 4 p.m.

Where: Pur­cell Pav­il­ion, South Bend, Ind. Records: UConn (6-0); Notre Dame (7-0) TV: ESPN

Ra­dio: 97-9 ESPN


The re­match: Arike Ogun­bowale hasn’t for­got­ten the jumper she knocked down over Napheesa Col­lier’s out­stretched arms last March.

Ob­vi­ously, nei­ther has UConn.

“I get tagged in it a lot on so­cial me­dia,” Ogun­bowale, who hit a pair of buzzer-beat­ers in the Fi­nal Four, first against UConn and then in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game against Mis­sis­sippi State, said be­fore the sea­son. “I think ev­ery time I get tagged, I watch it about 10 times.”

The re­match of that na­tional semi­fi­nal, which Notre Dame won 91-89 in over­time on the hero­ics of its All-Amer­i­can guard, takes place Sun­day. Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in the coun­try and UConn No. 2.

“There’s a lot of his­tory be­tween our two teams,” Ogun­bowale said. “It’s al­ways a great game when­ever we play each other. There’s never re­ally a let­down in any­thing.”

That’s for sure. The Huskies and Fight­ing Irish, old Big East ri­vals, have met 48 times since 1996 (UConn leads 36-12). In 41 of those matchups ei­ther one or both teams have been ranked in the top 5. Seven times they’ve met in the Fi­nal Four.

“It re­minds me of the old Ten­nessee se­ries,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Ev­ery game was like life and death. Ev­ery game was the game of the cen­tury. There was like 12 cen­turies in that se­ries.”

They squared off twice last sea­son, with the Huskies tak­ing the ini­tial meet­ing in Hart­ford, 80-71. The Fight­ing Irish, how­ever, re­turned the fa­vor when it mat­tered most. It was an all-toofa­mil­iar feel­ing for the Huskies, who had lost a year ear­lier at the Fi­nal Four to Mis­sis­sippi State un­der strik­ingly sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances — an over­time buzzer-beater.

To some, that loss still lingers.

“Get over, for­get about, I’m not re­ally sure,” UConn point guard Crys­tal Danger­field said. “I’m not re­ally sure I’ve … got­ten over it yet. But it’s not go­ing to play into this sea­son or this game be­cause it’s a new chap­ter. We have a dif­fer­ent team.”

As ad­ver­tised: So far, Notre Dame has been as ef­fi­cient and pro­duc­tive on of­fense as ev­ery­one ex­pected. The Fight­ing Irish have al­ready hit triple dig­its three times and are av­er­ag­ing a ro­bust 91.1 points per game. And that’s with star guard Ma­rina Mabrey hav­ing missed five games with a left quad in­jury. The Huskies, mean­while, are av­er­ag­ing 84.2 points per game. All five starters are scor­ing in dou­ble fig­ures, led by All-Amer­i­can guard Katie Lou Sa­muel­son (20.0).

DePaul coach Doug Bruno — who has faced both teams this sea­son — weighed in on the matchup fol­low­ing the Blue Demons’ 99-63 loss to UConn on Wed­nes­day: “Pheesa’s a re­ally tough matchup, Katie Lou’s a re­ally tough matchup. … Arike, I think, is a bet­ter player this year off the con­fi­dence she gained from the Fi­nal Four last year. She’s just mak­ing bet­ter, sounder de­ci­sions. … Jackie Young’s be­come a much bet­ter player. … They’ve got (Bri­anna Turner) back. (Jes­sica) Shep­ard, I think, is in a more fit place. I think the ex­pe­ri­ence makes a dif­fer­ence. Geno’s got some young play­ers out there.”

His­tory at a glance: UConn is 21-3 all-time in No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups, in­clud­ing 5-1 against Notre Dame.

-Doug Bon­jour

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