Feb. 22, 2009
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)--Maya Moore figures a tough game every now and then will be for good for top-ranked Connecticut in the long run.
Moore scored 18 points to help Connecticut remain unbeaten with a 76-66 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame on Sunday--the smallest margin of victory for the Huskies this season.
"Every game isn't going to be a 30-point win," Moore said. "Sometimes you have to grind `em out. Challenging us is good for us. When teams don't just lay down and let us do whatever we want, it makes us better."
Renee Montgomery led UConn with 20 points, eight assists and five steals and Tina Charles had 19 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies (27-0, 13-0 BIG EAST) posted their 37th consecutive home win. It was their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season -- they beat the first four by an average of just under 35 points.
Before Sunday, UConn's toughest game was an 11-point win over Georgia Tech in the season opener.
Despite the loss, Notre Dame (18-7, 7-6) played one of its better games.
"We know we can play with an athletic team like this," Ashley Barlow said after leading the Irish with 18 points. "We've just got to continue working at it and controlling the pace, like we did today."
Lindsay Schrader added 17 points and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame, which dropped to 5-3 against Top 25 teams.
"After this game we have an attitude that we can play with anybody," Schrader said. "I mean, the number-one ranked team, and we're coming in here and we're playing them tough."
The Irish led for much of the first half, and were ahead 43-41 almost four minutes into the second -- the first time the Huskies trailed after intermission this season.
"They play with four guards, so it keeps us from playing one of our big guys," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "They're not easy to play against and the first half wasn't easy for us at all, because we had a couple of defensive mistakes."
A pair of baskets by Moore and two 3-pointers by Montgomery started a 22-1 run over the next seven minutes that put the game away. During the span, Moore had 12 points and Montgomery added two assists and two steals.
"It will be at a timeout or something and coach will be, `We need a run so make it happen,"' Montgomery said. "I just take that and I just try to make a play for myself or for someone else."
The Huskies had trailed for just over 27 minutes all season. But UConn missed its first five shots and the Irish took a 6-0 lead, the biggest deficit the Huskies have faced all year.
Connecticut didn't get its first basket until Charles hit a layup three minutes into the game. Montgomery gave UConn its first lead with a 3-pointer that made it 11-10.
The Irish led 33-28 before an 8-0 Huskies' run gave Connecticut a 36-33 lead at intermission.
Notre Dame shot 43 percent in the first half and made 4-for-7 3-point shots, including three by Barlow.
The Huskies have won six consecutive games against the Irish, a team UConn has lost to four times since 2000.
Connecticut can clinch at least a tie for its 17th BIG EAST regular-season title with a win over Villanova on Tuesday. UConn can complete the third undefeated season in the program's history with wins over Villanova, Seton Hall and Rutgers.
Notre Dame is aiming for a first-round bye in the conference tournament, given to the top eight teams. They entered the game ranked sixth in the BIG EAST.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame was playing a ranked opponent for the fourth time in five games (and second top-10 opponent in three games), the first time the Irish have faced such a daunting stretch since the end of the 2002-03 season (March 9-30), when they lost to No. 20/18 Villanova, 50-39 in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals (the Wildcats went on to win the conference tournament, snapping Connecticut's 70-game winning streak in the title game), but came back with victories over 22nd-ranked Arizona (59-47) and No. 8/7 Kansas State (59-53) in Manhattan, Kan., in the first two rounds of the NCAA East Regional, before bowing to 10th-ranked Purdue in the regional semifinals, 66-47, in Dayton, Ohio ... the Irish are 5-3 against ranked opponents this season (2-2 on the road) ... the last four times Notre Dame has played a top-10 team, it has lost by an average of only 7.75 points per game (all by 10 points or fewer), including a 71-66 loss to No. 10/12 Louisville at home on Feb. 11 ... all seven Irish losses this season have been by an average of 8.3 points per game (none by more than 12 points), and in six of those contests, Notre Dame either had the lead in the second half, or had a possession to tie/take the lead in the second half ... Notre Dame put Connecticut in unfamiliar territory on several fronts on Sunday -- smallest margin of victory (10 points, previously was 11 in 82-71 home win over Georgia Tech on Nov. 16), largest deficit faced (6-0 at 18:06 of the first half; previous had been four points on three occasions), most combined minutes trailed in a game (16:53, including 16:30 in the first half; previous had been 7:14 vs. LSU on Jan. 3), first time trailing in the second half (43-41 with 16:11 left) and second-smallest halftime lead of the season (36-33; Georgia Tech and UConn were tied at 34-34 on Nov. 16) ... Connecticut now holds a 22-4 series lead on Notre Dame, including a 13-1 record on its home floor (either in Storrs, where the Huskies are 8-1 vs. the Irish, or in Hartford, where UConn is 5-0 vs. Notre Dame, including two wins in BIG EAST Championship play) ... Sunday's game was the closest in the series since Notre Dame's last win over the Huskies, 65-59 on Jan. 30, 2005, at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs ... junior guard Ashley Barlow moved into a tie for 22nd place on Notre Dame's career scoring list with 1,034 points, matching Mollie Peirick's total from 1994-98 ... Barlow also knocked down a career-high four three-pointers, after having made three treys on 11 different occasions (most recently on Jan. 27 vs. Rutgers at the Joyce Center) ... Barlow converted a rare four-point play at the 11:10 mark of the first half, the first four-point play by a Notre Dame player in more than six years (Feb. 16, 2003, when Alicia Ratay pulled off the feat in a 67-61 win at Providence) ... senior guard Lindsay Schrader notched her second consecutive double-double and team-leading fifth double-double of the season, putting her just one away from Danielle Green's school record for double-doubles by a guard in a single season (a mark she set in 1998-99) ... Schrader also registered her ninth career double-double, two shy of current assistant coach Niele Ivey's career record for double-doubles by a guard, set from 1996-2001 ... junior center Erica Williamson had one blocked shot, rising into a tie for ninth place on the Irish career blocks list with 97 rejections, matching the total of former teammate Melissa D'Amico from 2004-08.