SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame had a chance to make history, including matching a mark set by the Fighting Irish squad that famously ended UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. Instead, they saw a repeat of history against Connecticut.
The Huskies outscored the Irish 7-0 in the final minute to win 65-58 on Saturday and end a long home winning streak by No. 17 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1) for the third time in four years. The loss prevented the Irish from getting off to their best start ever in the Big East and their best start overall since the 1973-74 squad led by John Shumate and Adrian Dantley and coached by Digger Phelps opened 24-1.
“We played with a little bit of the weight of the world on our shoulders,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “That took its toll on us a little bit.”
Shabazz Napier scored 19 points, Tyler Olander scored 12 of his career-high 16 points in the second half to pace UConn (12-3, 2-1), who outplayed the Irish in the final minute .
After Eric Atkins scored six straight points for the Irish to tie the score at 58 with a basket inside, Ryan Boatright made two free throws for the Huskies. Jerian Grant then tried to drive inside, but Olander blocked his shot. Boatright then made another pair of free throws and Grant tried driving inside again and Olander got the rebound. DeAndre Daniels added a basket and a free throw to put the game away.
Olander had his best game playing against Jack Cooley, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.
“I didn’t look at the matchup and say, ‘I’m going go off and have a great game.’ I knew Jack Cooley is a great player. He’s having an outstanding year. I just told myself to go out, play hard, try to limit his rebounds and keep him off the boards. I guess good things happen when you play hard,” he said.
Cooley said Notre Dame’s plan was to give Olander open jump shots.
“He just started hitting them,” he said. “He was playing really well inside.”
Brey said the Irish couldn’t take advantage of Cooley.
“We could never get Jack into anything around the bucket. He was battling the whole night and fighting,” Brey said.
The loss Saturday ended a 17-game home winning streak for the Irish. Last year the Huskies ended a 29-game streak, meaning the only opponent to win in South Bend the past 48 games is UConn. The Huskies also ended Notre Dame’s school-record 45-game home streak in 2009.
“When I stepped onto the court, I looked up and it said 46-1 and it gave myself a little chuckle because I was telling myself it was going to be 46-2,” Napier said.
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said he focused on his team.
“We just talk about hanging in there and hanging around. Good things are going to happen to a team that sticks together and for a team that plays for each other,” he said.
Atkins led the Irish with 18, Jack Cooley added 14 points and nine rebounds and Jerian Grant had 11 points.
Connecticut took its first lead at 36-34 as Olander scored back-to-back baskets inside after Cooley went to the bench early in the second half after picking up his second foul. The Irish regained the lead at 37-36 on a jumper by Cameron Biedscheid. But the Huskies used an 8-3 spurt, including another pair of baskets inside by Olander, to move ahead 44-40.
The Irish tied the score on a basket by Cooley and a pair of free throws by Atkins.
But the Huskies regain control with a 10-4 run, highlighted by an alley-oop from Napier to Boatright. A basket inside by Napier gave UConn a 58-52 lead. But Atkins answered with six straight points to tie the score at 58. The Irish couldn’t get the lead, missing four shots and having a turnover in the final minute.
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