Jan. 12, 2005
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Connecticut wasn't about to let its season go without a fight.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Tennessee, its third loss to a ranked team in three tries, UConn coach Geno Auriemma issued a challenge to his team before they faced No. 7 Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
"There's only eight (active college) kids in America who have won a national championship, and they all play for me. So I asked them to start playing like it tonight," he said.
It might not have been quite championship caliber, but it was a good enough effort for the No. 16 Huskies to beat the Irish 67-50.
"I think for the most part it's the turning point of our season," said Ashley Battle, who had 15 points, including a pair of three-point plays late to put the game away.
Charde Houston had 19 points and three blocked shots as the Huskies (9-4, 3-0 Big East) avoided consecutive losses for the first time since the final two games of the 1992-93 season.
"For us it was incredibly important at some point we remember what it's like to win a game like this so we could be reminded of who we are. We're Connecticut," Auriemma said. "Had we lost tonight, we would have taken another hit and it would have been tough to recover."
The Irish (13-3, 2-2) lost back-to-back games for the first time since early last January. The most disappointing part, though, was how thoroughly they were dominated in the second half.
"I was pretty surprised," Notre Dame's Teresa Borton said. "I thought we'd give them more of a competition."
UConn held Notre Dame to 29 percent shooting in the second half and seemed to have the rebounding advantage even though the statistics showed Notre Dame outrebounded the Huskies 20-18 in the second half.
"We just seemed like we couldn't get a defensive rebound in the second half even though the stats don't indicate that," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.
Ann Strother added 13 points and Mel Thomas had 10 for the Huskies, who played their second straight game without leading scorer Barbara Turner because of a foot injury. Crystal Erwin was the only Irish player in double figures with 11 points.
Jacqueline Batteast, the second-leading scorer in the Big East at 19.1 points a game, was held to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. She injured her left ankle with 5:33 left in the first half when teammate Teresa Borton fell on her leg as they went for a rebound. Batteast went to the locker room, but returned for the start of the second half with the Irish trailing 31-26.
The Irish cut the score to 38-37 when Courtney LaVere scored inside with 12:45 left. But Notre Dame made just one of 11 shots over the next 8 minutes, while the Huskies were 9-of-14 from the field during that stretch.
Battle started the run, driving strong inside through a crowd of Irish defenders for a basket. She then made a free throw, a 15-foot jumper and scored on an inbounds pass as the Huskies went ahead 45-39 and continued to pull away.
Battle said it was great to finally play that well.
"We tried to keep our composure as much as possible and not let our emotions get the best of us," Battle said. "It was the first time all season we've played like we could play. It was an awesome feeling."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame suffers its second consecutive loss after opening the season at 13-1 ... the 17-point margin of defeat was the largest by the Irish at home since a 72-53 setback vs. Connecticut on Jan. 20, 2003 ... UConn now leads the series, 16-3, including a 5-2 mark at the Joyce Center ... twice in the series, the Huskies have been ranked lower than Notre Dame, and both times, they have won (also 78-76 on March 6, 2001 in the BIG EAST Championship final) ... Notre Dame loses consecutive conference games for the first time since Jan. 18 & 20, 2003, when it fell to Rutgers (64-61) and Connecticut (72-53) ... Wednesday's loss was just the fourth all-time for Notre Dame when it's playing at home as a top-10 team (now 47-4) ... the Irish matched their season-low point production with 50 points (also at Marquette on Dec. 19) ... UConn's 67 points are the most allowed by Notre Dame since an 82-73 overtime loss to #15 Michigan State on Dec. 2 ... Connecticut is only the fourth Notre Dame opponent to shoot 40 percent from the floor this year, and the first in nine games, joining Illinois State (.446), Ohio State (.442) and Valparaiso (.411) ... senior All-America forward Jacqueline Batteast was held to single-digit scoring for only the second time all season (seven points at Dayton on Dec. 9) ... Batteast did move into fourth place on Notre Dame's career rebounding list with 855 caroms, passing Mary Beth Schueth (853 from 1981-85) ... Batteast also made her 80th consecutive start and 102nd of her career, tying Letitia Bowen (1991-95) for eighth place on the Irish all-time starts list ... junior guard Megan Duffy posted her ninth five-assist game of the season, finishing one off her career high with nine handouts vs. UConn; in her last three games, Duffy is averaging 7.3 assists per contest (22 total) ... sophomore forward Crystal Erwin led the Irish in scoring for the second time this year and cracked double figures for the fifth time this season (sixth of her career) .. Erwin has been extremely comfortable playing at home this season, averaging 9.1 ppg. and 4.6 rpg. with a .545 field goal percentage in 10 games at the Joyce Center ... Notre Dame welcomed a season-high 6,744 fans to Wednesday night's game.