HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had that
sick feeling in his gut.
His Huskies (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) were headed toward an apparent rout of
unranked Notre Dame on Tuesday night when it suddenly unraveled.
The Fighting Irish showed why they were the best 3-point
shooting team in the conference and hit four 3s in a 25-2 run to
erase a 19-point second half deficit in a hurry. The Irish had
their first lead at 61-60 midway through the half and Calhoun
quickly called a timeout to gather his shaken team.
"They were stunned. It happened so quick," he said. "We shut
the engine off and stopped playing."
Then it was the Huskies' turn to rely on their strength -- the
inside game. UConn finished with a Big East record 19 blocks,
pounded the ball inside down the stretch and afer Marcus Williams'
bank shot sent the game into overtime, the Huskies escaped with a
Silenced by the Notre Dame's rally, the sellout Hartford Civic
Center crowd of 16,294 was deafening in the overtime period.
"(Notre Dame) had every right to win that game just as much as
we did," Calhoun said. "We had to will our way back in. Thank God
it was here at the Civic Center. I'm not sure we could win that
game on the road."
Williams finished with a triple-double for UConn, which sent
Notre Dame to yet another close loss. The Fighting Irish (13-11,
4-9 Big East) lost by an average of 4.3 points in their previous 10
defeats and are now 1-6 against ranked teams this season.
Hilton Armstrong blocked seven shots and hit a pair of free
throws late in overtime to put UConn ahead. Rudy Gay came down with
a key defensive rebound as time expired, helping the Huskies (24-2,
11-2) hang on after blowing the big lead.
Williams finished with 18 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for
the sixth triple-double in school history and first since Emeka
Okafor in December 2003 against Army. His 10th rebound was the most
important. With time running out in regulation, Williams scooped up
a miss from Gay along the baseline and banked in a runner to tie it
at 71 and send the game into overtime.
"I saw it was kind of long, so I tried to just drift to the
other side," Williams said. "I've never had 10 rebounds. Ever. I
never had 10 rebounds shooting by myself."
Williams was flawless in the first half with 15 points, nine
assists, six boards and no turnovers to help the Huskies to a 48-32
lead at the break. They got there easily, shooting nearly 46
percent from the floor. The Fighting Irish, as it turned out, were
just getting started.
Chris Quinn started the rally with a bank shot with 15 minutes
left in regulation and Colin Falls scored 12 points in the 25-2
spurt. His baseline layup gave the Irish their first lead at 61-60
with 10:35 to play.
UConn relied on its size inside to come back. Josh Boone scored
on a pair of putbacks and grabbed a couple of boards on the
defensive end. The Huskies bought time with Williams' bank shot at
the end of regulation.
Neither team scored until Gay hit a jumper with 1:41 left in the
extra period. Rob Kurz countered with a 3-pointer and the Irish
regained the lead 74-73. Armstrong was fouled on UConn's next
possession and hit both free throws to close out the scoring.
Chris Quinn, who finished with 13 points for Notre Dame, gave
the Irish one final chance. He threw up a floater in traffic and
Gay came down with the rebound.
"Connecticut made some big plays when they had to," Notre Dame
coach Mike Brey said. "I'll go to bed with that Chris Quinn runner
for the rest of my life and play the law of averages. We did not
Boone had 12 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks for UConn. Gay
added 17 points and three blocked shots.
It was UConn's first overtime game this season and the fourth
for the Irish, who have lost them all. Notre Dame also lost by
three at Pittsburgh, two at Marquette, two against Villanova and
one at West Virginia.
Falls, who shot 5-of-14 from 3-point range, finished with 23
points for Notre Dame. Rick Cornett scored 12 before fouling out in
the closing minutes.
The Huskies outrebounded the Irish 56-46. Notre Dame, the best
3-point shooting team in the conference, finished 10-of-28 from
beyond the arc.
UConn concluded its regular season at the Civic Center 10-0 and
snapped Notre Dame's three-game winning streak.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win a basketball game against a
very good team," Brey said. "For our group, there is no more
resilient basketball team than my guys."