For UConn Women, It Doesn't Get Any Bigger Than Facing Notre Dame

Rivals UConn and Notre Dame meet Wednesday in South Bend as No. 1 faces No. 2.

In the four years they played basketball in Storrs, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart won 151 of 156 games.

Those five losses? Four came in the first 33 games. And three stung more than just another loss.


"You don't want to lose at all," Tuck said. "But you don't want to lose to Notre Dame. You just don't."

For the most successful program in college basketball, marquee games against highly ranked opponents are part of the fabric. The bright lights draw the country's best recruits to Connecticut.


This, though, is something different: UConn vs. Notre Dame, the rivalry kids hear about when they make the first visit to Gampel Pavilion as high school kids.

This season, the young Huskies have defied expectations by rising to No. 1 in The Associated Press Poll with a 7-0 record that includes four victories over ranked opponents. Notre Dame, an experienced and deep team, has been viewed as the top team in the country from preseason through this week, when the Irish dropped to No. 2 based on their early schedule.

They first met on Jan. 18, 1996. UConn beat Notre Dame 87-

As Notre Dame hosts UConn Wednesday night, much will be at stake. UConn's 82-game winning streak. The top spot in the national polls. The bragging rights in a two-decade rivalry between two proud programs and two dynamic coaches, Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw.

It's the biggest game of the young season for UConn. And the Huskies know it.

"You come into UConn and you understand the rivalry with Notre Dame even before you get here," UConn junior guard Kia Nurse said.

Nurse has never lost to Notre Dame. UConn is 34-11 overall against the Irish and has won five in a row against them, last losing in the Big East Tournament title game in 2013.

Notre Dame beat UConn three times that season, when Tuck, Stewart and Jefferson were freshmen. That was part of a stretch when Notre Dame won seven of eight against UConn.

But in recent years, as Notre Dame moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference and UConn landed in the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies have owned the rivalry. They beat the Irish in consecutive national title games after winning in the 2013 national semifinals. They've won regular season games the past two years, when the Big Three were steamrolling over the rest of the college basketball world.

This season was supposed to be different. Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson are gone. Notre Dame has forward Brianna Turner and guard Lindsay Allen leading perhaps the most talented roster in the country.

And Notre Dame has UConn at home, with a raucous crowd expected at Purcell Pavilion.

Yet a month into the season, UConn is sitting atop the polls. The Huskies upset then-No. 2 Baylor, they convincingly defeated then-No. 15 DePaul and persevered over then-No. 14 Texas.

This year's version of UConn has passed every test and the winning streak is alive. Now comes the most challenging test of all.


"I don't think they'll be fazed," Tuck said. "I think part of it, at UConn we would get really excited for those games. Those are the game we looked forward to more than any game."

The same is true for the coach. Auriemma has talked about how much he relished an intense, chaotic atmosphere. UConn experienced it last year in South Carolina, when it beat the No. 2 team in the country in early February.

There was some of that feeling at Gampel when the Huskies beat Baylor last month. But Auriemma knows this is different.

"Obviously it's going to be an incredibly pro-Notre Dame environment," Auriemma said. "And given the history of the last three or four years, I would think there's going to be a high level of intensity and energy in the crowd. And they're deep. We're going to have to match that. They're deep. They have a lot of players. We're not so much right now."

Over the past three seasons, UConn has played the No. 2 ranked team four times as the No. 1 teams. It has wins over South Carolina (66-54) last season, Notre Dame (63-53) in the 2015 NCAA title game, Notre Dame (79-58) in the 2014 NCAA title game, and Duke (83-61) in the 2013-14 season.

The Huskies won at South Carolina and Duke. They've also won in the past two trips to Notre Dame.

Nurse, junior Gabby Williams and senior Saniya Chong has lots of experience in games of this magnitude. Sophomores Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier got a taste of it last season, facing Notre Dame a year ago.

Auriemma said Sunday that he was looking forward to the preparation for the meeting with Notre Dame. He is continuing to learn about his team, which seems to find a way to win no matter the style of the game. He challenged his team to toughen up and it did, especially in a win over physically imposing Texas Sunday.

Prepping this team for what's in store Wednesday is why Auriemma still loves his job.

"That's still one of my favorite things to do, prepare for a really good team, especially on the road," Auriemma said Sunday. "Those two days leading up to the game are really a lot of fun, sometimes they're more fun than the actual game. So I'm looking forward to seeing ... what kind of look the players have these next two days. I think they'll be pretty excited."

HBO is producing a behind-the-scenes series on the UConn women's basketball program

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