SOUTH BEND — Coach Muffet McGraw saw a lot of things her No. 1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball have been doing against other teams this season.
The problem Sunday was they were doing those things against the No. 2 UConn Huskies, who turned those things to their advantage and handed the Irish their first loss of the season by an 89-71 score at Purcell Pavilion.
“A lot of the problems we had were things we have been overcoming against other teams. Our execution on offense was poor. Our game plan was to take the ball inside where we felt we had an advantage,” McGraw said. “As bad as our offense was, the defense was equally as bad. I was disappointed in our effort on the boards.
“We have been doing these things at time against other teams, but you can’t do them facing a team like UConn.”
Notre Dame’s only lead of the contest was at 2-0 after a basket by senior Jessica Shepard at 9:48 of the first quarter.
It’s only the ninth home loss for the Irish since the 2008-09 season. The last three have all been to the Huskies.
“Maybe the last four, five or six minutes we were dominating, before that it was a pretty close game. Every time we needed a basket we got one. Every time Notre Dame made a run we answered,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “What I liked about our team at the end was that when it was time to stretch it out, we did that.
“If you can win here you can win anywhere.”
A big difference in the game was the play of UConn freshman Christyn Williams, who tossed in a game-high 28 points.
“She adds a big dimension to our offense,” Auriemma said. “You have to match Notre Dame’s aggressiveness and attack their defense the way they attack yours. Williams does that for us.”
Williams was 11-of-16 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
“Her ability to get to the rim worried us. She has the great ability to drive the ball,” McGraw said. “We knew she was good. We recruited her. She was the difference in the game.”
The Irish trailed 44-41 at halftime. Notre Dame went cold from the floor after intermission. After shooting 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) in the first half they fell off to 10-of-34 (29.4) in the second.
“Notre Dame had a lot of open shots that they missed. Two months from now those shots might go in,” Auriemma said.
UConn was 34-of-75 (45.3 percent) from the floor.
“Neither team shot the ball really well,” Auriemma said.
The Huskies were leading at halftime despite one of their best player — senor Katie Lou Samuelson — not scoring. She rallied in the second half, finishing with 15 points.
“She did not have a good first half, but to comeback the way she did was a positive,” Auriemma said.
Junior Jackie Young scored 18 points to lead the Irish.
“We need to get the ball in her hands more often,” McGraw said.
Senor Arike Ogunbowale added 17 points for Notre Dame, Shepard 13, senior Marina Mabrey 11 and senior Brianna Turner 10.
Ogunbowale picked up a technical foul late in the game after what appeared to be some words between her and Auriemma.
“He said something and I fed into to it. As a senior I should know better and not lose my poise like that,” Ogunbowale said. “We can’t lose our poise like that. We just didn’t play our game today.”
Notre Dame is 7-1 and McGraw knows there is a lot of basketball yet to be played.
“We have a really great team. One thing about a game like this is that it shows you what you are doing right and the things you need to work on,” McGraw said.
McGraw was asked what she wants to see from her team the next time they take the floor for practice.
“I would like to see more effort, more intensity, better execution and to step up to the level of play we are capable of,” she said.
“This is not the first time we have faced adversity, but we have always had that stretch where everything went right to get us back in the game. Today that didn’t happen.
“One thing this does is allows us to look at things more objectively.”
Notre Dame is back in action Saturday at Toledo.
Greg Keim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 326. Follow Greg on Twitter @gkeim_TGN