Jan. 21, 2002
By DONNA TOMMELLEO
AP Sports Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. – Sue Bird scored 19 points and Tamika Williams added 17 to lead top-ranked Connecticut to an 80-53 win over defending national champion Notre Dame.
Williams led a dominating inside game with 11 rebounds to help the Huskies (21-0, 7-0 Big East) remain unbeaten.
Notre Dame beat UConn 90-75 last season in the national semifinals. But it was a much different Irish team that returned to defend its title, losing three starters from the championship squad, including All-American center Ruth Riley.
The Huskies managed to build a 40-21 first-half lead without much offensive production from their leading scorers. Swin Cash was 0-for-6 and Diana Taurasi hit just 1-of-7 in the first half.
A tenacious Notre Dame defense kept UConn from shifting into its up-tempo game with seven steals and five blocks in the first half.
But the Fighting Irish (10-7, 4-2) had shooting woes of their own, hitting just 2-of-15 in the first 12 minutes. The Irish also turned the ball over 10 times in the opening period, including their first three possessions.
Notre Dame’s problems continued in the second half just as UConn was rediscovering its transition game. The Huskies opened the period with a 17-4 run as Williams had five points and two steals in the four-minute spurt. Cash added seven points in the run.
Last season, on Martin Luther King Day, the Irish beat UConn 92-76 to knock the Huskies from the top spot. UConn beat Notre Dame 78-76 at the buzzer for the Big East tournament title, but the Irish then rallied from a 16-point deficit to defeat the Huskies at the Final Four.
Cash, who was averaging 16 points a game, finished with 11 and had four blocks. Teammate Asjha Jones scored 15.
Taurasi, averaging 14 points a game, was held to four, but she and Bird led the team with six assists apiece.
Kelsey Wicks led Notre Dame with 16 points. Jacqueline Batteast was held to six points, eight below her average, and Amanda Barksdale led all players with six blocks.