It's been rare over the past decade that Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies have found themselves down by double digits in the final 10 minutes of a game. Let alone facing that deficit at home.
Yet that's where the top-ranked Huskies were Sunday against No. 3 Notre Dame. They trailed by 11 in the fourth in front of a stunned sellout crowd.
To make matters worse for the Huskies, they were missing two preseason All-Americans. Gabby Williams was out for the second half with a migraine and Katie Lou Samuelson reinjured her foot in the fourth quarter.
They still had Azura Stevens and she helped the Huskies rally. Stevens, who sat out last year after transferring from Duke, scored 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, to help UConn top the Irish 80-71 in the Jimmy V Classic.
"They made all the plays they needed to make to win the game," Auriemma said. "So things that happen, like that fourth quarter, remind our team how good we can be. ... We can be that good so it was good for us to learn that today, it was really good."
The Huskies (7-0) trailed 65-54 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 21 of the next 26 points that energized the 15,558 fans.
Stevens' layup gave the Huskies a 69-68 lead — their first since the second quarter. Kia Nurse had seven points during the burst, including hitting her 13th consecutive 3-pointer over the past three games.
Her layup with 3:51 left gave UConn a 71-70 advantage after Arike Ogunbowale had briefly given the Irish (7-1) a 70-69 lead. Nurse then had another layup off a tip from Stevens and the Irish couldn't recover.
"We found that we have a certain level of energy, like that was shown in the fourth quarter and so it's now going to be a challenge to try and bring that out every day in practice so that it starts from the beginning of the game," Stevens said.
Ogunbowale's basket accounted for the lone points for the Irish until she hit one free throw with 16 seconds remaining that made it 77-71. The Irish only had one basket in the final 7:48.
"I thought we played well for 35 minutes, we defensively had some major lapses," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We had a stretch of ugly. Unfortunately it was the last five minutes."
Samuelson returned to the lineup after missing four games with a mid-sprain in her left foot. She left early in the fourth quarter limping back to the locker room. She did return to the bench during a timeout and played for about a second in a foul shooting substitution.
"I'm sore, but I got re-taped and I felt like I could have come in, but coach wanted to make that decision," Samuelson said. "He said it wasn't worth messing it up any more."
UConn extended its home winning streak to 69 games — tied for third longest in NCAA history.
Marina Mabrey scored 21 points, and Ogunbowale added 19 for the Irish.
"We showed we can play with and beat anyone in the country," Mabrey said. "We just came up short in the end."
Trailing 28-21 in the second quarter, the Irish scored 13 straight points and 20 of the next 22 to take a 42-30 advantage and stun the Huskies.
Ogunbowale scored the first seven points during the burst. The Irish led 43-36 at the half.
Notre Dame: The Irish have beaten the No. 1 ranked team in the country four times in 28 tries. All four of those wins came against the Huskies with the previous one on Jan. 15, 2013. ... This was the 1,000th game that Muffet McGraw has coached at Notre Dame in her Hall of Fame career. She's 772-228 at the school.
UConn: Nurse broke the school record for consecutive 3-pointers made. She hit her 11th in a row midway through the first quarter to break the tie she held with Samuelson and Caroline Doty. The NCAA record is 14.
"It's weird hearing that," Nurse said of holding the school record. "The coaches have been so willing to put the time in to shoot with me."
APPROACHING 1,000: Coach Geno Auriemma has 998 victories and is two away from becoming the third women's basketball coach to reach 1,000 in his career. Pat Summitt and Tara VanDerveer each have crossed the milestone.
Notre Dame: The Irish host Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge on Wednesday.
UConn: The Huskies head to Chicago to face DePaul on Friday.