HARTFORD, Conn. – It has been rare over the past decade that Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies have found themselves down by double digits in the final 10 minutes of a game. Let alone facing that deficit at home.
Yet that's where the top-ranked Huskies were Sunday against No. 3 Notre Dame. They trailed by 11 in the fourth in front of a stunned sellout crowd.
To make matters worse for the Huskies, they were missing two preseason All-Americans. Gabby Williams was out for the second half with a migraine and Katie Lou Samuelson reinjured her foot in the fourth quarter.
They still had Azura Stevens and she helped the Huskies rally. Stevens, who sat out last year after transferring from Duke, scored 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, to help UConn top the Irish 80-71 in the Jimmy V Classic.
The Huskies (7-0) trailed 65-54 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 21 of the next 26 points that energized the 15,558 fans.
Stevens' layup gave the Huskies a 69-68 lead – their first since the second quarter. Kia Nurse had seven points during the burst, including hitting her 13th consecutive 3-pointer over the past three games.
Her layup with 3:51 left gave UConn a 71-70 advantage after Arike Ogunbowale had briefly given the Irish (7-1) a 70-69 lead. Nurse then had another layup off a tip from Stevens and the Irish couldn't recover.
Ogunbowale's basket accounted for the lone points for the Irish until she hit one free throw with 16 seconds remaining that made it 77-71. The Irish only had one basket in the final 7:48.
“I thought we played well for 35 minutes, we defensively had some major lapses,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We had a stretch of ugly. Unfortunately it was the last five minutes.”
UConn extended its home winning streak to 69 games – tied for third longest in NCAA history.
No. 5 NOTRE DAME 71, ST. FRANCIS 53: In South Bend, senior center Martinas Geben had his first career double-double to lead the Irish past St. Francis (New York).
Coach Mike Brey and All-American forward Bonzie Colson would have preferred not to see the final 6 minutes, 2 seconds in the locker room, watching on Colson's cellphone after both were ejected.
“It's nice to have a passionate coach who is not going to back down and is going to stand up for us, but he needs to stay a little more composed,” Geben, who is from Lithuania, joked after the Irish (7-1) rebounded from their first loss of the year, a 81-63 defeat by No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday.
Geben was one of five players in double figures – Colson had 13, Matt Farrell 12 and T.J. Gibbs and D.J. Harvey 10 each – for Notre Dame, which shot 41.4 percent for the game, including 27.6 percent in the second half. Geben had 14 points and 10 rebounds.