Monday, February 20, 2006

UConn 79, Notre Dame 64

Women's Basketball

Editor's Note: Scroll down for my NL Central preview.

OK, I'll start by ranting about the announcers, just to get it out of the way. UConn's radio announcers are more neutral than that ESPN crew. Hey, Gino Auriemma gave you four free copies of his book, and you're allowed to eat at his restaurant whenever you want. Ooh, look at me! I don't know what was worse: That the announcers couldn't believe a decent Notre Dame team, playing their rivals at home, was staying close to an overrated UConn team? Or, that the same announcers started cheering, "OK, here we go!" whenever UConn hit a big shot to swing some momentum? Was this game being called from the Huskies bench?
Now, on to the game. UConn built a nine point lead, until Notre Dame went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to two. But, just when it looked like the Irish had all the momentum, UConn's Renee Montgomery hit a jumper at the first half buzzer to make the score 37-33. I'm sure I wasn't the only Irish fan to have flashbacks to the 2001 Big East championship game. In that game, Sue Bird ended both halves with a buzzer-beater, the second to win the game for the Huskies.
But the Irish apparently did have some momentum left. A Crystal Erwin jumper made the score 42-41 in ND's favor, but it turned out to be the last lead Notre Dame would have. The Huskies would end the game by outscoring the Irish 38-22. Current Irish arch-nemesis Ann Strother had 11 of her 19 points in the second half.
What was the differnce in the game? UConn outshot Notre Dame from the field in the first half, but the Irish stayed close thanks to free throw shooting. In that first period, ND made 8 of their 12 foul shots, while UConn made only 1 of 4. In the second half, things changed. Shooting from the field was about even, but UConn dominated from the charity stripe. The Huskies got to the line 19 times in the second half, making 16. The Irish did go to the free throw line 11 times in the second half, but converted only 6 times.
UConn did a great job of holding Megan Duffy in check, to the tune of 2 for 7 shooting and 11 points. Duffy's teammates were able to step up, to some extent. Lindsay Schrader, Breona Gray, and Charel Allen each had 12 points. Schrader looked good early, and was playing with a passion, but that seemed to fade off quickly.

Where does this leave the Irish? With three games left, their RPI is at #43. They'll be fully on the Bubble Watch. Notre Dame's remaining games are at #118 West Virginina and #56 Cincinnati, and finally Senior Night at home vs. #61 Pittsburgh. If Notre Dame can beat Cincinnati and Pitt (as they should), and throw in a win or two at the Big East Tournament, they should sneak into the tournament.