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No. 2 UConn women to take on No. 24 Notre Dame at sold-out Gampel Pavilion

Late Friday night, Geno Auriemma was listing the role call of upcoming opponents, including Sunday's matchup with No. 24 Notre Dame, the first meeting between the programs without Hall of Fame Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw at the helm.

"We don't have any easy games. We've got Notre Dame on Sunday and then we're at Georgia Tech (Thursday) and then we've got UCLA (Dec. 11) and then we've got Louisville (Dec. 19) and then who the hell knows after that," Auriemma said. "I get nauseous just thinking about it. So there you have it."

The game, the first for the second-ranked Huskies this season at Gampel Pavilion (noon, FS1) has been announced as a sellout and is being billed as UConn's Olympic Tradition Game, as the university will unveil a monument in honor of its former Olympians. Former basketball Olympians expected to attend are Sue Bird, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash.

UConn, which defeated Seton Hall 74-49 in its Big East Conference opener Friday night, is 4-1 overall. The Huskies will be missing freshman Azzi Fudd — the former national high school player of the year is out for at least two weeks with a foot injury — and junior Aubrey Griffin (back), who has not played at all this season.

So what makes Auriemma less nauseous at a time like this, with a schedule full of luminaries ahead in December?

Paige Bueckers.

Bueckers finished with 23 points on 11-for-18 shooting, a career-high nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals in 34 minutes against Seton Hall, all while taking a shot to the face which resulted in a bloody nose. She played part of the second half with her nose plugged to stop the bleeding, a 3-point shooting prizefighter.

Following a 73-57 loss to No. 1 South Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Nov. 22 in the Bahamas, with Auriemma calling for a step up from his team in mental and physical toughness, rebounding and defense, it was Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year who can seemingly do everything, who raised the level of her game.

In one sequence, Bueckers scored at one end of the floor, then came back on defense and recorded a steal, leaving Auriemma, who usually pokes a little fun at Bueckers and her vision of herself as a top defensive player, raving about the sophomore's defense.

"Paige," Auriemma said simply, asked what he liked on defense. "I mean, she was all over the court. She's smart and she knows where the ball is going all the time. She's early there. She's not late.

"She's so smart offensively that when she's on defense, she knows exactly where they're trying to go with the ball. I've always said that the best offensive players can also be the best defensive players if they feel like it, 'cause once you understand offense you know what the other team's trying to do and you're always ready for it. You know where it's going, you're in the right place at the right time and then you got to hustle your (butt) off and she does."

Christyn Williams added 17 points for UConn against Seton Hall, Aaliyah Edwards had 12 points and seven rebounds, Olivia Nelson-Ododa 10 points and Dorka Juhasz 10 rebounds.

UConn was just 3-for-16 from 3-point range with Auriemma saying the Huskies haven't been good on offense at all this season.

"Maybe it'll come," he said, "but right now not good, not good at all. So I've got to go home and figure that out."

UConn hasn't played Notre Dame since an 81-57 victory over the Irish on Dec. 8, 2019, in Storrs.

After the 2019-20 season, McGraw retired as the head coach, replaced by Niele Ivey, the team's point guard during its 2001 national championship run.

Notre Dame (7-1) is coming off 10-10 season last year, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time after a run of 24 straight. The Fighting Irish, however, broke back into the Associated Press Top 25 with Ivey's first win over a ranked team, beating No. 16 Oregon State 64-62 on Nov. 27.

The Irish have five players averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld with 14.5 points per game. Freshman guard Sonia Citron, coming off a 29-point game in a win over Michigan State on Dec. 2, averages 11.6 per game, followed by senior guard Dara Mabrey with 11.6, freshman point guard Olivia Miles with 11.5 and graduate forward Maya Dodson with 11.3.

None of Notre Dame's top five scorers have ever played in the Notre Dame-UConn rivalry, as Mabrey is a transfer from West Virginia and Dodson a graduate transfer from Stanford.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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