It was a busy Saturday of conference games with 12 BIG EAST teams in action over six league contests. Road teams went 5-1 on the day as No. 2/2 Notre Dame was the only squad to win at home.
Notre Dame (19-1, 7-0 BIG EAST) topped Villanova (12-7, 2-4 BIG EAST) by the score of 76-43. The Irish have won 16 straight, the third longest streak in the nation behind undefeated Baylor (19-0) and Green Bay (17-0).
Irish redshirt-senior Devereaux Peters single-handedly outscored Villanova 17-16 in the first half — the Irish led 44-16—and finished with 19 points. Skylar Diggins led the Irish with 20 points and Notre Dame had only nine turnovers, while forcing 20 against the Wildcats.
“We were just really trying to take care of the ball but still keep our pace and attack, I think that’s what it was. We were attacking and opening up opportunities and making ourselves available,” Diggins said. “I guess you can call it the luck of the Irish. We are just playing good ball with each other now and taking care of the ball.”
Next up for the Irish is No. 9/9 Tennessee on Monday night in a rematch from last spring’s NCAA regional won by the Irish.
Junior Rachel Roberts scored 14 points to lead Villanova. The Wildcats were hurt by early foul trouble from leading scorer Laura Sweeney. She finished with 10 points, five under her average in limited minutes.
Villanova coach Harry Perretta was not with the team because of a death in the family. A team spokesman said Perretta attended a funeral Saturday and would return to practice Sunday. Assistant coach Joe Mullaney ran the team in his absence.
In Chicago, No. 2/2 Connecticut and No. 21/19 DePaul met before a soldout crowd of 4,001 at McGrath-Phillips Arena. The Huskies (17-2, 6-1 BIG EAST) won 88-44 behind 25 points from freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. The rookie shot 8-of-13 from the field, 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and grabbed seven rebounds. Mosqueda-Lewis leads all freshmen in the BIG EAST, averaging 14.8 ppg and ranks second with 5.2 boards.
DePaul rookie Brittany Hrynko led the Blue Demons with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Junior Anna Martin (0-6 shooting) was held scoreless for the second time in her career. The Blue Demons (15-5, 3-3 BIG EAST) also saw their 28-game home winning streak snapped.
The Huskies outshot the Blue Demons 54.7 percent to 27.8 percent overall. They were 9-of-19 from long range, compared to 8-of-26 for the Blue Demons. They outrebounded DePaul 46-22 and forced DePaul into 23 turnovers, resulting in 33 points.
“I’ve said all along here over the last couple of weeks that there are four teams that have a chance to win the national championship, and that’s Baylor, Notre Dame, UConn and Stanford,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
The game came a day after the announcement that Bruno will serve as a U.S. Olympic assistant to Auriemma, along with Washington Mystics assistant Jennifer Gillom and Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors. All four posed for a photo before the opening tip.
About the only downer for Connecticut was guard Caroline Doty leaving after playing just two minutes because her troublesome left knee swelled up. She’s torn the anterior-cruciate ligament three times, so it probably wasn’t too surprising that it acted up with the Huskies playing their fourth game in eight days. Auriemma wasn’t concerned, saying, “There’s no alarm at all.”
In Tampa, Fla., No. 7/8 Rutgers (16-3, 5-1 BIG EAST) rebounded from its first loss in over a month and pulled out a 72-66 victory over USF (11-9, 3-3 BIG EAST). Senior April Sykes had 23 points and 10 rebounds, while redshirt-senior Khadijah Rushdan added 16 points to lead the Scarlet Knights.
“They were inspired,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “Let me say this, Jose does a great job with his team,” Stringer said. “It’s always, for whatever reason, we’re going at it.”
Rutgers’ lead slipped to 70-64 in the final minute, but the Scarlet Knights made two late free throws to secure the conference road win.
The Bulls got 15 points from transfer guard Inga Orekhova.
“They’re No. 7 in the country for a reason,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. “I was proud of how our kids fought, but I told our kids at the end of the year, there’s not an asterisk saying we played Georgetown tough, they played Louisville tough, should have won against the No. 7 team in the country. It comes down to wins and losses. We’ve got to start closing out some of these Top 25 games.”
In Milwaukee, Wisc., Providence (11-9, 3-4 BIG EAST) won at Marquette (12-8, 3-4 BIG EAST) by the score of 52-50. The Friars remained a perfect 6-0 in games played on Saturday this year, and won their first conference road game of the season.
Senior Rachel Barnes hit two free throws with one-tenth of a second left to lift the Friars to victory. Prior to Barnes' game-winning free throws, the Friars missed their previous five attempts from the charity stripe.
Senior Teya Wright led the Friars with 18 points, while Barnes finished with 11 points, six rebounds and a career-high five steals.
Sophomore Katherine Plouffe posted a double-double on 16 points and 11 rebounds to pace Marquette. Freshmen Apiew Ojulu and Ariesia Morse contributed 11 points each, while Katie Young added 10.
There were seven ties and six lead changes. The Friars led 26-19 at halftime.
St. John’s (13-7, 5-2 BIG EAST) won at Cincinnati (9-10, 0-6 BIG EAST) by the score of 51-34. The Red Storm held a 32-14 halftime lead. St. John’s had three players score in double digits, including a double-double by senior forward Da’Shena Stevens (10 points, 10 rebounds), her first of the season and the 16th of her career.
The Bearcats were led by 10 points and seven rebounds from sophomore Jeanise Randolph. Cincinnati’s 34 points were the fewest it has scored this season and its 25 turnovers tied a season-high.
In the Steel City, West Virginia (14-5, 4-2 BIG EAST) beat Pittsburgh (8-12, 0-7 BIG EAST) by the score of 54-43 in the BIG EAST television Game of the Week. Redshirt-sophomore Christal Caldwell’s double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds paved the way for the Mountaineers.
Caldwell recorded 12 points in the opening half on her way to her first-ever double-double, helping the Mountaineers to a 32-16 halftime lead.
Redshirt-sophomore Ashlee Anderson led Pitt as she had 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Marquel Davis and Kyra Dunn each added eight and seven points, respectively. The squads meet again in the regular season finale on Feb. 27.
Material from interviews, school websites, the Associated Press wire service as well as league and team sources was used in this report.