No. 9 UConn was determined to send a message Sunday night to No. 6 Notre Dame and the rest of the Big East.
The Huskies did send a message, but not the one they anticipated. After a monthlong stretch of strong play against quality opponents, the Huskies fumbled a rare one at home, serving notice that their midseason revival is still a work in progress.
After a turnover-filled first half left UConn down by 10, the Huskies could never quite get it all back, cutting the lead to one on two occasions before falling 65-59 before 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.
The loss snapped UConn's 112-game home winning streak against Big East opponents. The last time UConn lost a conference game at home was Feb. 27, 1993, 64-62 to Georgetown. And it ended a 55-game regular season winning streak at Gampel that dated to a 72-71 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 2, 2000.
More important, the loss snapped UConn's five-game winning streak that began with a 17-point victory over Notre Dame Jan. 12.
``I've said all along, I'm not going to do any handstands,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ``I don't get excited about anything this team does, because I know it's short-lived. This team has a very difficult time sustaining things.''
Instead of widening its lead in the Big East at the start of a five-game stretch through the iron of the league, UConn (13-5, 6-1) fell into a first-place tie with Rutgers and Boston College, a half-game ahead of Notre Dame (18-3, 6-2), which beat UConn on the road for the first time in 10 meetings. The Huskies face the eighth-ranked Scarlet Knights Thursday at the Civic Center.
``We've still got a chance [to win the league],'' said Ashley Battle, who had five points, but missed three three-pointers in the final three minutes. ``We have a great opportunity here. It's not away from us. We're still in control of our own destiny. We just have to be aware that there's two sides to us. If we can hide that ugly side, we can beat any team in the country.''
The ugly side surfaced in the first half as the Huskies committed 16 turnovers, which Notre Dame converted into 17 of its 34 points. After leading 20-18 with 7:49 left in the half, UConn had one field goal and the Irish sprinted to a 34-24 halftime lead.
``We just weren't on the same page,'' said Ann Strother, who led UConn with a season-high 25 points, but had four first-half turnovers. ``It's just a lack of concentration. That's the only way to explain this loss. A total lack of concentration. The turnovers absolutely killed us.''
Yet it was the same players who came out in the second half and committed just four turnovers, scoring the first seven points to make it 34-31 and twice cutting the deficit to one, the last at 52-51 with 4:38 remaining on the sixth of Strother's career-high seven three-pointers.
``The encouraging thing was, we came out in the second half and did some things to get ourselves back in the game,'' Auriemma said. ``We had a chance to win the game.''
But the Irish had an answer for each UConn rally. On another night when Jacqueline Batteast was missing in action against UConn, scoring nine points on 3-for-17 shooting, it was the supporting cast that maintained the Irish lead. After Strother's three, Charel Allen hit a three-pointer to put Notre Dame back up by four. Allen (11 points) then hit a pullup in the lane with 3:25 left to give the Irish a 57-52 lead.
The Huskies chipped away again, closing to 59-56 with 1:39 left. The Huskies then forced Megan Duffy (12 points, seven steals) to take a difficult three-pointer as the shot clock ran out, and Duffy missed badly. But Jessica Moore could not keep the rebound alive, losing it out of bounds. On Notre Dame's second chance, Duffy found Courtney LaVere (14 points) alone underneath for a layup with 40.7 seconds left, restoring a five-point advantage.
UConn's last gasp came in the final seconds, when Strother made her final three-pointer after Battle had missed two on the same possession. Strother rebounded Battle's second miss, dribbled to the three-point line and scored with 12.6 seconds left to make it 61-59.
But Duffy, the Big East's leading free-throw shooter, was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and made both for a 63-59 lead with 11.8 seconds left. Ashley Valley missed UConn's last three-point attempt and Breona Gray hit two free throws with less than a second left for the final margin.
``We were not going to be intimidated,'' Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ``I think to come in here and play where we've never won and play like we did tonight was a real step forward for this team.''