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Final: No. 1 UConn Women’s Basketball Claws Back to Defeat No. 3 Notre Dame, 80-71

Azura Stevens led the Huskies to a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback.

UConn’s Azura Stevens (23) goes up for two of her 17 points during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs UConn Huskies women's college basketball game in the Women's Jimmy V Classic at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 3, 2017.
UConn’s Azura Stevens (23) goes up for two of her 17 points during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs UConn Huskies women's college basketball game in the Women's Jimmy V Classic at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 3, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In front of a sold-out XL Center, the No. 1 UConn women’s basketball team used a fourth-quarter comeback to take down the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 80-71.

The comeback was orchestrated by Azura Stevens and even more impressively, UConn did so without Katie Lou Samuelson—who left with an injury—and Gabby Williams—who was benched for the entire second half.

Things looked dire for the Huskies with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter after Notre Dame hit a 3-pointer to take an 11 point lead. To make matters worse, Samuelson exited on the ensuing possession.

But then Azura Stevens took over. The redshirt junior had her coming out party in the fourth quarter and single-handedly brought UConn back as she contributed in some form on nearly every Husky basket down the stretch.

The Huskies’ defense locked down in the fourth quarter, holding Notre Dame without a field goal for the final 4:11 while allowing just nine points.

UConn’s free throw shooting, along with a few huge rebounds from Megan Walker, helped the Huskies come away with the thrilling victory.

At the start, the two teams were evenly matched, trading baskets to the first media timeout. The Irish held a narrow 14-12 lead in large part due to six early points from Jessica Shepard, who used her clear size advantage over the Huskies frontcourt.

But UConn was the first to pull out ahead. They held Notre Dame scoreless over the last three minutes of the first quarter and re-took the lead.

Katie Lou Samuelson returned to the lineup, forcing Azura Stevens back to the bench. However, the transfer built on her west coast performance to help spark a 9-0 run to give the Huskies a 26-18 lead, forcing Muffet McGraw to take a timeout.

The Irish wouldn’t stay down for long, though. Arike Ogunbowale ripped off an 7-0 run by herself to tie the game. Notre Dame’s run built to 13-0, which forced Geno Auriemma to take a timeout as his team fell down six.

The Huskies broke out of their 3:28 cold streak thanks to a layup from Samuelson, but couldn’t cut into the deficit, as the Irish responded with four straight baskets to extend their lead to 12.

However, back-to-back threes from Dangerfield and Samuelson cut the Notre Dame lead to just 43-36 at the half.

Out of the break, Auriemma gave the start to Stevens instead of Gabby Williams, who scored just two points on 1-7 shooting in the first half. The junior failed to see the court for the entirety of the second half due to coach’s decision.

The Huskies came out strong but struggled to close the lead. Samuelson had a sequence with a steal, offensive foul and a pair of fouls shots to cut the deficit to three, but Notre Dame continued to keep UConn at arms-length.

It didn’t help that the Huskies’ offense continued to sputter throughout the third quarter. They went over five combined minutes without scoring and entered into the fourth quarter trailing by eight.

But the pendulum began to swing thanks to a pair of baskets from Stevens sandwiched by a Kia Nurse 3-pointer. Stevens followed it up by hitting a pair of free throws before giving UConn the lead on the next possession with a lay-in.

The teams traded baskets for the next few possessions before a second-chance layup from Kia Nurse stretched the lead to three. That lead grew from three to five and eventually climbed to nine, which would be the final thanks to the Huskies’ free throw shooting at the end.

Katie Lou Samuelson led UConn with 18 points despite missing much of the fourth quarter, although she would return for a single possession at the end of the game.

With the victory, the Huskies improve to 7-0 on the season. Next, they head to Chicago to face the DePaul Blue Devils on Friday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on FS1.

UConn head coach Geno Auriemma postgame:

Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier, Azura Stevens postgame:

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw postgame: