Jan. 15, 2001
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Another basketball winning streak came crashing down at Notre Dame, this time on the women's side.
Responding to the largest home crowd in school history, No. 3 Notre Dame beat No. 1 Connecticut 92-76 Monday to end the Huskies' 30-game winning streak and hand UConn its worst loss in more than seven years.
The Irish played almost perfectly on a momentous day in the same building where the Notre Dame men ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak with a 71-70 victory on Jan. 19, 1974.
"I'm still kind of shocked," said Notre Dame guard Niele Ivey. "I think someone hit me upside my head or something. It's just a great feeling. UConn's a great team and to come out there and have a total team effort is just incredible."
In a showdown between the nation's only unbeaten Division I teams, the Irish ended an 0-for-9 drought against top-ranked teams and defeated Connecticut for the first time in 12 tries.
Ruth Riley, showing no ill effects from a sprained ankle two days earlier
against Virginia Tech, had 29 points and 12 rebounds for Notre Dame (17-0, 6-0
Connecticut (13-1, 4-1) missed six of its first seven shots and never led in losing for the first time since Feb. 2, 2000 - 72-71 against Tennessee. It was their first Big East loss since Boston College beat them on Jan. 23, 1999.
When Notre Dame's Imani Dunbar hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, fans rushed from the stands to join the players and cheerleaders celebrating at midcourt as the UConn players trudged dejectedly off the floor.
"I'm embarrassed personally," said Connecticut's Sue Bird. "A lot of people did come out to play on our team, but collectively, no way. We just didn't play the way we normally can, for whatever reason."
A sellout crowd of 11,418 saw Notre Dame win for the 32nd straight time at the Joyce Center. The largest crowd previously for a women's game at Notre Dame was 8,134 for Tennessee on Jan. 12, 1992.
Notre Dame, which used only six players until the final 19.5 seconds, did everything it needed to win. The Irish handled Connecticut's press, shot 57 percent, stayed out of foul trouble and got inspired play from Riley and their other injured starter, Kelley Siemon.
Riley made 8-of-11 shots, sank all 13 of her free throws, blocked five shots and frustrated Connecticut's double teams with alert passing in finishing with four assists.
"She was better than Bill Walton today," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "She was outstanding. I think she was the best player in the country today."
Siemon, who broke her left hand against Virginia Tech, played with a protective wrap on her left hand. She made her first shot with the injured hand and finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
"Kelley was the catalyst for the team," McGraw said. "She really set the tone for the game. She just said, `I don't care what's wrong with my hand, I'm playing.' She gave us an outstanding effort."
Ivey had the job of breaking Connecticut's press and did it well while scoring 14 points, handing out 10 assists and making all three of her 3-points shots.
Svetlana Abrosimova led Connecticut with 20 points and Bird had 17, but starter Swin Cash had only three and Shea Ralph just two. The Huskies got plenty of shots against Notre Dame's 2-3 zone, 79, but made only 29 for 37 percent.
It was the biggest margin of defeat for Connecticut since a 94-75 loss to Stanford on Dec. 28, 1993.
"I thought right from the opening tip, Notre Dame was better," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "In all the areas you need to play well to win the game, I thought they outplayed us."
Notre Dame led by nine points at halftime, then fought off the Huskies after they cut the lead to 52-46 on Tamika Williams' putback with 12:39 left. The Irish answered quickly, going on a 16-4 run that included seven points by Riley to open a 68-50 lead.
Siemon started it with two free throws, then got the crowd roaring when she bobbled the ball on a breakaway to the left of the basket, threw the ball at the rim as she was stumbling out of bounds and banked it in.
Notre Dame was in control the rest of the way. UConn got the lead down to 85-76 in the final minute. But layups by Alicia Ratay and Erica Haney finished it off for the Irish.
"I think our team is surprised when somebody plays well against us," Auriemma said. "That's how immature some of our players are. They would like to phone ahead and say, `By the way, here we come, we would like the score to be 52-30 at halftime, so could you please go along with that.'
"And when it doesn't go like that, we're not quite sure how to deal with it this year."