Feb. 26, 2000
By DONNA TOMMELLEO
Associated Press Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Sue Bird didn’t want to talk about her first half.
But everybody wanted to talk about her second.
The sophomore point guard scored nine of her 14 points in the final three minutes Saturday as Connecticut beat fifth-ranked Notre Dame 77-59, ending a 20-game winning streak by the Irish and clinching its seventh straight Big East regular-season title.
“Sue Bird didn’t make a shot until it was time to win the game and then she made every shot,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.
His counterpart agreed.
“I think Sue Bird was the difference in the game,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.
Down by as many as 16 in the second half, the Irish battled to within six with 4:46 left on a pair of Alicia Ratay free throws. UConn worked the lead back to 10 on two free throws from Shea Ralph and a Tamika Williams’ hook shot. That’s when Bird took over and took advantage of a flagging Notre Dame defense.
“They were very tired, you can tell,” said Bird, who went scoreless in the first half. “We knew it was time to bear down and make some plays.”
She made them all, scoring the next nine points over a 2-minute stretch and when the dust settled, UConn had a 71-57 lead with 1:15 to play.
“Sue came out like she always does and takes over the game,” said backcourt mate Shea Ralph, who led the Huskies with 17 points.
The loss was the first in the conference for the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish (24-3, 15-1 Big East). UConn (26-1, 15-0 Big East) clinched the top seed in next weekend’s conference tournament.
The Huskies’ full-court pressure tripped up the Irish from the start, and a swarming post defense shut down Notre Dame’s Ruth Riley. The 6-foot-5 Riley picked up two quick fouls and spent most of the first half on the bench.
“I knew exactly where to turn her and who was coming to help,” said UConn center Kelly Schumacher. “It’s hard when you’re double teamed in the post. I know.”
Riley fouled out with 6:47 left in the game and was held to four points, 12 below her average.
“I think I didn’t play that smart,” said Riley. “You can’t come out and play just half a game, especially against Connecticut.”
Ralph had six points in UConn’s opening 8-0 run, giving the Huskies a lead they would not relinquish. Notre Dame shot just 28 percent in the first half, and managed just two field goals in the first nine minutes. The Irish put together a mini-run of 6-0 on 3-pointers from Niele Ivey and Ratay to cut the deficit to 22-15 with 4:20 left.
The Huskies went on to take a 33-19 lead at the break.
“I thought we panicked and were intimidated,” said McGraw. “We didn’t play our game in the entire first half.”
Ratay and Ivey led the Irish with 17.