UConn won its rivalry game against Notre Dame but may have lost last year’s national player of the year to a knee injury in the process.
Paige Bueckers scored 22 points before going down with just seconds left in No. 2 UConn’s 73-54 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame on Sunday.
Bueckers, who is averaging a little more than 20 points per game, was dribbling up the court in the final minute of this one when she stumbled, twisting her ankle and coming down awkwardly on her left leg. She went to the floor a few seconds later and had to be carried off the court.
Coach Geno Auriemma said she injured her left knee but did not appear to twist it. He said the extent of the injury won’t be known until scans are completed on Monday.
“The initial report is, she might have hyperextended it,” Auriemma said. “But I think the first thing that goes through your mind is the worst thing.”
Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Huskies (5-1), who dominated underneath, outrebounding Notre Dame 45-32 and outscored the Fighting Irish 28-16 in the paint.
UConn freshman Caroline Ducharme scored a season-best 14 points and Aaliyah Edwards chipped in with 10.
Freshman Sonia Citron, coming off a 29-point game against Michigan State, scored 19 points for Notre Dame (7-2), which had its final lead at 10-9 in the first quarter.
The Huskies led by 10 points at halftime and by 12 early in the second half. But Notre Dame used a 6-2 run to cut the lead to 51-44 headed into the fourth quarter.
The Huskies took over from there. A 3-pointer from Bueckers made it 56-44 and UConn scored the first 13 points of the final quarter to put the game away.
“We played competitively for three quarters,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “And in the fourth quarter they ran away with it. I think it’s a credit to UConn. They are a really great team. Unfortunately, we got outrebounded and I thought that was the difference.”
UConn fell behind early, before going on a 7-0 run to take the lead for good. The Huskies ended the first quarter leading 16-12.
A 3-point play by Nelson-Ododa after an offensive rebound gave UConn a 28-23 lead and sparked a run that saw the Huskies score 10 of the final 12 points in the half.
A long pass from Bueckers to Christyn Williams, who laid the ball in just before the buzzer, sent the Huskies into halftime leading 35-25.
UConn had 14 of its 18 second-chance points in the first half, while holding the Irish to just four during the game.
“We definitely celebrated the win, but we were definitely more concerned about Paige and just how she was feeling and her status right now,” Nelson-Ododa said. “You know, we’re praying for the best and praying for good news and just kind of waiting for the outcome.”
Notre Dame: This was Ivey’s first game against UConn as a head coach. The Irish are now 13-39 all-time against the Huskies, 0-9 in the month of December and 9-11 over the last 20 meetings.
UConn: Before the game, UConn dedicated a monument outside of Gampel Pavilion honoring the school’s Olympians, including 16 former Husky women’s basketball players. Eleven of those won gold medals, led by Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who each have five.
HE SAID IT
Auriemma was asked why Bueckers was on the floor in the final minute of what turned out to be a 19-point win. He said there is no good explanation for that.
“She never wants to come out,” he said. “She’s a pain in the (behind) to have on the bench, ’cause all she does is complain about why she’s not playing and we’ve made a concerted effort in the last three or four games to get her some rest during the game.”
UConn likely will remain near the top of the poll, but how long it stays there may depend on the extent of Bueckers’ injury. Notre Dame’s losses have come to No. 20 Georgia in overtime and to UConn, which may be enough to push them outside the Top 25.
Notre Dame: Continues its road trip with a visit to Valparaiso on Wednesday.
UConn: Travels to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on Thursday.