When Notre Dame and UConn last played, a national championship was on the line in a historic matchup of two undefeated teams.
The Huskies came away with a 79-58 victory to win their ninth title this past April. The two teams will face each other again Saturday in the Jimmy V Classic with a lot less at stake.
“I think the object in sports is to create rivalries,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There’s been rivalries that we’ve had ever since I’ve been at Connecticut, and it varies from just minor ones to major ones going back 30 years ago with our rivalry with Providence College. We had some great games with them. There’s always somebody that you hope poses the kind of challenge that you really, really, really have to work hard to overcome. So I think it’s a great rivalry.”
This will be the 17th meeting between the schools since Jan. 16, 2010. UConn has won nine of them, but the Irish won seven of eight in the series from 2011-2013. The two former Big East rivals didn’t meet during the regular season last year after Notre Dame left for the ACC.
“Early on it was pretty one-sided. And I think probably when Skylar (Diggins) got here I would say that that’s when the attitude started to turn around a little bit,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “Kayla McBride, I thought, had an awful lot of success against Connecticut over the years that she was here. So I think her and Skylar between them I think really set a different tone for our team.”
The two teams have played some thrilling games over the past few years. The last time they met in South Bend, Indiana, the Irish won 96-87 in triple overtime in 2013. The teams also played in the Final Four semifinals in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
This season, the second-ranked Irish (8-0) have cruised through their first eight games winning by an average of 43 points. Freshman Brianna Turner has been a big reason why, averaging 13.4 points a game. She injured her right shoulder in Wednesday win against Maryland and McGraw said she had no update on the injury Thursday.
Even if Turner can’t play, the Irish have preseason All-American Jewell Loyd. She had 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists in Notre Dame’s rout of Maryland. She’s scored in double figures in 51 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history.
“Just another game for Jewell. She was phenomenal,” McGraw said. “She can make the game so exciting. It’s really fun to watch.”
Third-ranked UConn (5-1) is led by junior standout Breanna Stewart and freshman Kia Nurse. The Huskies saw their 47-game winning streak end at Stanford in the second game of the season. They’ve cruised since then, winning a tournament in Florida over Thanksgiving weekend.
The two teams will play again in the regular season next year in Connecticut once again in the Jimmy V Classic ESPN announced on Friday. The Huskies have played in six Jimmy V Classics, including the last three.
While Auriemma would love to see the series continue after next year, McGraw was more non-committal.
“We just schedule a year in advance. I’m pretty sure we’re on the books for next year, but I haven’t really checked on that yet,” she said. “But I think it’s a great game that people want to see, but I don’t want to sound arrogant that this is like the best game in women’s basketball. I think it’s a fun game to watch for a lot of fans.”
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