Jan. 20, 2002
HARTFORD, Conn. – One of the nation’s budding rivalries will continue Monday afternoon when Notre Dame travels to the Hartford Civic Center for a matchup with No. 1 Connecticut at 3 p.m. (EST). The Irish took two of three meetings with the Huskies last season, including a 90-75 victory in the NCAA national semifinals, paving the way for Notre Dame’s first national championship.
However, as these two teams prepare to renew acquaintances, they are headed down decidedly different paths. Notre Dame is in the midst of a transition season, with half of its 12-player roster comprised of freshmen which were part of the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class last year. Meanwhile, Connecticut returns four starters from its 2001 Final Four squad and has its sights set on returning to college basketball’s biggest stage and a second NCAA title in three years.
Notre Dame (10-6, 4-1 BIG EAST) has begun to find its stride in the last six weeks, winning eight of its last 10 games, including four of its first five conference games. The Irish come to town on the heels of a 69-41 victory at Providence on Saturday, a game which not only featured another stellar performance by the Notre Dame freshman (48 points) but also displayed superb bench strength from the Irish (47 points).
Connecticut (20-0, 6-0) has been the nation’s No. 1 team all season long and has done nothing to dispute that lofty ranking. The Huskies has defeated five ranked teams this season, including four top-10 foes and have not won by less than 14 points in any game this year. In its last contest, UConn downed Villanova, 93-60, on Saturday in Philadelphia.
All five Husky starters are averaging in double figures and shooting better than 50 percent from the field, led by Swin Cash (16.3 ppg., .568) and Diana Taurasi (14.3 ppg., .510). National player-of-the-year candidate Sue Bird averages 6.7 assists per game for head coach Geno Auriemma, who is 445-98 (.820) in his 17th season at UConn.
– ND –