UConn’s women’s basketball team season ends in Final Four defeat to Notre Dame
Meeting for second consecutive year in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, this time in front of an attendance of 20,062 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida the UConn(35-2) women’s basketball team looked to avenge last year’s disappointing two-point overtime loss to the Notre Dame(35-3). Back in December the Huskies defeated the Fighting Irish on their home court 81-76. Both teams’ came into the match-up riding extended winning streaks, UConn at 17 games and Notre Dame 13 wins in a row.
With the game tied at 4-4 in the first quarter, the Huskies ripped off a 9-0 run. The Fighting Irish struggled from the perimeter missing eight shots, going five minutes without a point. UConn utilized the fast break outscoring The Fighting Irish 9-4 while Huskies senior forward Napheesa Collier poured in seven points as the Huskies led 16-12 at the end of the quarter.
However, Notre Dame flipped the script in the second quarter behind the play of forward Jessica Shepard, tallying eight points during a 12-0 spurt that put The Fighting Irish ahead. Down 22-18 with less than seven minutes remaining, UConn answered back with a 6-0 run. The back and forth action continued as there were five ties and lead changed eight times but the Huskies managed to hold a 30-29 advantage at intermission.
This game resembled a heavyweight championship fight as both teams’ continued to slug it out in the third with the lead chances increasing to 14 times and six ties. Notre Dame took a brief four-point lead at 44-40 with less than five minutes remaining. Held scoreless at halftime, UConn senior guard Katie Lou Samuelson caught fire pouring in 15 points including knocking down three trifecta’s as the Huskies held a slim 54-52 advantage at the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, UConn showed no signs of cooling off as freshman guard Christyn Williams netted five points and Samuelson canned another a trey extending the lead to 64-55 with less than eight minutes on the clock. Just when it seemed the Huskies were poised to pull away, Notre Dame clawed back due to the play of leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale.
Averaging 21.5 points per game, Ogunbowale was limited to seven points through three quarters of play but caught fire in the final period pumping in 16 points as The Fighting Irish roared back with a 13-2 run to go back in front 68-66 with three minutes left. The lead kept fluctuating as the lead changes number surged to 26 times. Notre Dame dominated the boards and had plenty of second chance opportunities.
Samuleson’s lay-up put UConn on top 73-72 with less two minutes in the quarter but that would be the last time the Huskies would hold the lead as 14 seconds later a jump shot by Shephard had Notre Dame back in front. Down the stretch the Huskies were unable to narrow the gap missing on a plethora of three-point shots ending up 8 for 28 while The Fighting Irish knocked down seven out of eight free throws to seal an 81-76 victory, second consecutive trip to the national championship game and opportunity to repeat as national champions.
Samuelson led UConn in scoring with 20 points while Williams delivered 19 points, Collier had 15 points and Megan Walker added 14 points. Ogunbowle poured in game-high 23 points for Notre Dame and Shephard chipped in with 20 points as The Fighting Irish had five players in double figures. Notre Dame outrebounded UConn 54-37 and sank 14 of 16 free throws.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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