Advertisement

No. 11 UConn women using loss to Notre Dame as a learning experience headed to Villanova

Jan. 30—UConn legend Diana Taurasi came into the Huskies' locker room following an 82-67 loss to Notre Dame and offered some advice.

"She was just saying next game ... we have more games ahead in the road and just knock this one out of the way, learn from it and then move on the next one," UConn freshman KK Arnold said.

No. 11 UConn, 17-4 overall, 9-0 in the Big East Conference, plays at Villanova at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (SNY) and that's the general consensus from Saturday's defeat, in which the Huskies allowed Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo (34 points) to repeatedly get to the basket untouched.

They need to learn from it.

"In these last 13 games (the defense) wasn't an issue," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose team carried a 13-game winning streak into the rivalry game against Notre Dame. "It was an issue tonight.

"We had worked really, really hard on it and these last 13 games against some really, really good offensive teams we've been spot on. Tonight we weren't, for whatever reason. We just were not on the same page tonight."

Auriemma said that UConn national player of the year candidate Paige Bueckers smacked her face on the floor in the first half and he didn't feel like she was herself the rest of the game.

Senior guard Nika Muhl, meanwhile, was in foul trouble early and fouled out 31 seconds into the fourth quarter. She finished with no points, four rebounds and three assists. UConn was plus-13 in the scoring column with Muhl in the game, which means the Huskies were minus-28 with her on the bench.

It wasn't something UConn's young guard lineup — the Huskies start a pair of freshmen in the backcourt in Arnold and Ashlynn Shade — was experienced enough to handle without the direction of Muhl.

"The only way that you can prepare to be good in these games is when you've been in these situations enough times," Auriemma said. "Where KK and Ash are, Ice (Brady, redshirt freshman), where we are right now, we're not there yet that we can stop runs like (Notre Dame had).

"A lot of things happened today ... our young guys had an awful lot without Nika in the game. KK and Ash had to play way too many minutes in a game like this. I'm not worried about that. I think the more we're in these situations, the better. They'll figure it out."

Auriemma regretted not giving Shade and Arnold even more responsibility in the game, instead trying to get the ball to Bueckers to get the team going.

Shade has earned Big East Freshman of the Week honors five times this season and Arnold four. They've been fearless thus far, allowing the Huskies to play a 50-meter dash-style tempo, forcing opponents into 17.9 turnovers per game with an in-your-face defense.

Arnold and Bueckers each have 50 steals or 2.4 per game.

"The defensive energy that I brought was not the same energy that I brought the last few games," said Arnold, who came to the interview room after the loss along with senior Aaliyah Edwards. "So keeping that up and keeping my head up throughout the game and ... I'm trying to be another leader for the team, a big voice."

"I think as KK gets a little more comfortable with our offense, it would be a little bit easier to play without Nika, but right now there's a lot offensively that we're not real comfortable with when Nika's not in the game. It was actually a pretty good learning experience for our younger guys. KK and Ash are going to be really, really, really good; they struggled a little bit tonight."

The game against Villanova is a rematch of last year's Big East tournament championship game held at Mohegan Sun, a 67-56 UConn win.

UConn is led by Bueckers with 20.0 points per game and Edwards with 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. Villanova (13-7, 6-3) is paced by 5-foot-9 guard Lucy Olsen with 23.7 points and 6-2 forward Christina Dalce with 10.6 rebounds. Maddie Webber is the reigning Big East Freshman of the Week.

Villanova has won 31 of its last 35 home games at Finneran Pavilion.

v.fulkerson@theday.com