- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Muffet McGraw loved the fearlessness her team showed against top-ranked UConn.

That’s been a staple of Notre Dame and its players over the past several years when the Irish have turned this rivalry into the best in women’s basketball.

It would have been easy to discount Notre Dame’s chances against the team that beat it in the national championship game last season and had won its first five games by an average of 38 points. The third-ranked Irish were missing post players Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer due to injuries.

Notre Dame kept it close as freshman Marina Mabrey stepped in to score a career-best 23 points, 21 in the first half, in a 91-81 loss to the Huskies on Saturday night in the Jimmy V Classic. It was one of the best efforts by a freshmen against the Huskies in a long time.

“She’s played well for us in a lot of games and to come into this game as a freshman in this atmosphere shows the fearless quality,” McGraw said of her freshman. “She’s not going to back down from anyone and that bodes well for us in the future.”

Outside of the team’s 20 turnovers, McGraw was happy with Notre Dame’s effort.

“So many good things to take away from this,” she said. “The way we shot the ball from the 3-point line was really good.”

The Irish (7-1) hit 13 of 20 (65 percent) from behind the 3-point arc.

“I don’t see too many people beating them this year,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Those guys are getting a lot of experience. When their big guys do come back they’re going to be really, really good.”

Behind Mabrey’s effort the Irish only found themselves down by two at the half. Trailing by 10 after a spectacular tip-in by Breanna Stewart, Mabrey and her sister Michaela rallied Notre Dame, scoring 17 of the next 20 points.

A layup with 5:15 left in the second quarter by Kristina Nelson gave the Irish their first lead of the game. The two teams traded baskets over the rest of the half as Madison Cable scored nine straight points for Notre Dame. UConn led 45-43 at the break.

“I’m proud of the way we battled,” McGraw said. “Marina was outstanding in the first half. I thought we lost the game in the third quarter. So many little things we can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes. The margin of error for us with this team right now is very small.”

Notre Dame found itself down 58-54 midway through the third quarter before Morgan Tuck started a 20-2 run over the next 7 minutes. She had eight points during the spurt. The lead grew to 78-56 early in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame scored 13 of the next 15 points to close within 11 with 4:46 left, but couldn’t get much closer.

Breanna Stewart scored 28 points and Tuck added 21 to lead the Huskies (6-0), who have won 43 straight games.

TIP-INS:

Notre Dame: McGraw celebrated her 60th birthday and Auriemma gave her a small gift before the game. Notre Dame is 5-3 when playing on her birthday.

UConn: The Huskies have won 26 of their last 34 games against teams ranked in the top five. Six of the eight losses have come against Notre Dame, including the last two in 2013. … This is the fifth straight year that UConn has played in the Jimmy V game that honors Valvano, the former N.C. State coach who died of cancer in 1993.

INJURY BUG: Turner’s missed the past four games after injuring her right shoulder in practice last week. She will be out at least a couple of weeks as she tries to avoid season-ending surgery through rehab. Turner was on the bench with her arm in a sling. The Irish also were missing Reimer, who has been dealing with a sore Achilles. She’s day-to-day, but didn’t travel with the team to Connecticut.

FAMILIAR FOES:

This was the 19th meeting between the schools since Jan. 16, 2010. UConn has won 12 of them, but the Irish won seven of eight in the series from 2011-2013. After taking a year off when the Irish left the Big East, the two teams played in last season’s Jimmy V Classic as well as the national championship game.

UP NEXT:

Notre Dame: vs No. 23 DePaul on Wednesday night.

UConn: at Colgate on Wednesday night.

___

Follow Doug on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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