No. 4 UConn women host No. 3 Notre Dame tonight
Muffet McGraw doesn't have much missing from her impressive resume as coach of Notre Dame. The third-ranked Irish will try and remove one of the few holes by winning the Big East regular-season title outright for the first time when they visit No. 4 UConn tonight (9 p.m., ESPN2).
The Irish (27-2, 14-1) clinched a share of the conference title with Saturday's 80-68 victory over South Florida, giving them their first Big East crown since 2001 - the same season they won the national championship. They finished in a tie that season with UConn and would love to have this one all to themselves.
"That would be amazing," said Notre Dame forward Devereaux Peters. "I just want to get it for coach, everybody on the teams wants to do it for coach. She hasn't had it before."
Notre Dame has already clinched the top seed in the Big East tournament that begins Friday by virtue of the conference's tiebreaking procedures. Both the Irish and Huskies (26-3, 13-2) have already earned byes until the quarterfinals of the tournament.
"It's a big game Monday but a lot less pressure on us going into the game knowing we already have a share of the title," McGraw said. "So we can relax, have fun and play like we enjoy playing. I think we are much better when we are relaxed."
The two teams met on Jan. 9 in South Bend, Ind., and the Irish came away with a 74-67 overtime victory as UConn couldn't hold on to a late lead in regulation.
"It's in the back of our minds," UConn freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "We're going to use it as fuel and a learning tool. We've got to make sure we limit those turnovers and make sure the mistakes that we made last time are limited or eliminated all together. Notre Dame's a good team and I think we've grown since the last time we played them."
That victory was the Irish's second consecutive win over UConn - also knocking them off in the national semifinals last season. Only Tennessee has beaten Connecticut three times in a row in the last seven years, winning three straight from 2005-07.
"I think any player, any coach, anybody looks forward to games like Monday night," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "Those are the games that I think mean the most to you because you know you're playing a great team, and you're playing a team that is used to success now. So you love those games. You love them."
Connecticut could finish third in the conference for the first time since 2005 if the Huskies fall to Notre Dame and St. John's, which ended UConn's 99-game home winning streak last Saturday, beats Georgetown.
"It doesn't feel good to share, but if we can get that then we're definitely going to go for it if that's all we can get," UConn senior guard Tiffany Hayes said. "We've definitely got to prepare tomorrow because it's going to be a battle."
Both teams can put up points as Notre Dame leads the nation in scoring at nearly 82 a game while Connecticut is sixth at just under 78. Defensively the numbers are flipped with the Huskies leading the country allowing an average of 45 points and the Irish are seventh giving up just 51 a game.
The Huskies have won the Big East regular season or tournament championship the last 17 years.
"They're good," Auriemma said. "They're a hard team to play against for anybody. It's like they're in a similar position that we've been in for all these years. You have to hope that they play poorly because just you playing well might not be enough. With most teams if you play well you're going to win. But with teams like Notre Dame, the way they're built right now you could play well and still lose."
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