UConn upends No. 1 Notre Dame behind freshman Williams’ big day

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — UConn coach Geno Auriemma welcomed entering Sunday’s game “unencumbered.” For once, his Huskies weren’t considered the favorites. There was no long winning streak on the line, either. Just a game they wanted to play well in in a rivalry that they’ve usually gotten the best of over the years.

UConn freshman Christyn Williams certainly didn’t look like anything was weighing her down. In her first visit to Purcell Pavilion, she walked in like she owned the building, and she and the Huskies left with an 89-71 victory over the defending national champions and what’s sure to be the No. 1 ranking again come Monday.

In other words, what else is new? The Huskies now lead the series 37-12 and have another standout to showcase, too. Williams finished with 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 from the free throw line. She didn’t have any rebounds, and had only one assist, but, hey, she’s got to save something to improve on.

Talk about making a great impression in your first marquee game. With all the spotlight on these two teams, who battled to overtime with Notre Dame winning on a buzzer-beater in the national semifinals last season, the star of the day was a kid who was just watching that epic game. She was still in high school in Arkansas, waiting her turn to be the latest in a long line of Huskies heroes.

Williams was the No. 1 recruit in the country, a 5-foot-11 guard with speed, savvy and silky moves. Sunday, she looked like she was made for games like this one. She scored seven of the Huskies’ first 10 baskets, gliding in for layups in transition and knocking down two 3-pointers.

Williams had 16 points in the first half, which came in especially handy because UConn leading scorer Katie Lou Samuelson was scoreless in the first half, going 0-for-7 from the field.

Auriemma had said prior to the game that he wanted Williams and other young Huskies to be in situations where, “They are guarding somebody they can’t guard.” He figured that would be great experience for them. But the Irish were the ones who found themselves struggling to guard Williams.

Notre Dame put last year’s Final Four star, Arike Ogunbowale, on Williams to try to slow her down. It worked a little bit — but not much. Williams was able to put the Irish on their heels from the start of the game, and they spent the rest of it playing catch-up. And they never caught up. What was expected to be a close game in which Notre Dame was favored turned into another Huskies rout. Jackie Young led Notre Dame with 18 points, but the Irish defense — which coach Muffet McGraw said before the game that she was worried about — fell short.

Williams caused a good deal of Irish angst. In the fourth quarter, when Notre Dame was trying to rally, Williams’ three-point play with 7:40 left put UConn up by one, 71-62. She clenched her fists in celebration on the floor after being fouled, and then got up and made the free throw.

Samuelson came around in the second half and finished with 15 points and six assists, and senior Napheesa Collier had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

UConn did not get any of its top recruiting targets for next season, which prompted a lot of kvetching from worried Huskies fans in the past week. But UConn looks to have quite a gem in Williams, who has only just begun her college career. Great news for the Huskies — and scary for everyone else.

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