SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Geno Auriemma owns a restaurant at Mohegan Sun Arena but that doesn't mean he's always a gambler when he's guiding his University of Connecticut women's basketball team.
The Hall of Fame coach had seen an 11-point lead get away from the top-ranked Huskies and No. 2 Notre Dame was threatening to take control of their matchup late in the first half Wednesday night. Would Auriemma take a chance and put Napheesa Collier back in the game with two fouls? The sophomore forward had been on the bench since picking up her second offensive foul in eight minutes of the first quarter.
"In a game like this, the fouls are going to be there because it is a physical game," Auriemma said. "There were times I looked over at her and there were a couple of times just in turning I saw her mom and dad (Sarah and Gamal) sitting behind the bench and they were obviously disappointed. I could tell. I felt like saying, 'Yeah, you should see how I feel.'
"There was a point I did want to put her in but I said, 'No, it's not worth it. We're going to need her in the fourth quarter.' "
Collier returned for the start of the second half and didn't leave the floor until the Huskies ran off to the locker room with their 83rd consecutive victory. She scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the final 20 minutes as UConn pulled away for a 72-61 win over the Irish before a capacity crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.
"She's a difference maker, that is what she is," Auriemma said.
UConn (8-0) led by seven when Collier took a seat with two fouls and 1:23 left in the first quarter. With her sidelined, Notre Dame (8-1) outscored the Huskies 22-11 to go up by four until two Katie Lou Samuelson baskets evened the game at halftime.
The reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Week came back to score the first two baskets of the second half and eight points in the third quarter. With the Irish trying to stay close in the final minutes, she finished a drive and hit a jumper as the shot clock was expiring to keep UConn in charge.
"I just tried to play smarter," Collier said. "I'm letting my team down when I'm on the bench and am not able to help them. It's important for me to stay out of foul trouble."
On the defensive end, the St. Peters, Missouri, native did a fine job working against Notre Dame All-American Brianna Turner. Collier was a teammate of Turner's and Notre Dame guard Marina Mabrey on the 2014 United States U-18 national team that won a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship.
Turner did finish with 16 points but worked for them all.
"It was tough. She's super-athletic and tall and hard to guard," Collier said. "I just tried to stay in front of her."
Collier was 7-for-9 shooting from the floor to improve her AAC-leading field-goal percentage to 67.7 percent. She leads the Huskies in scoring (19.1) and is second in rebounds (6.7).
MCGRAW IN FOUL MOOD
UConn's aggressiveness at the offensive end paid dividends as it was able to get to the foul line. The Huskies were 19-for-20 shooting at the charity stripe compared to Notre Dame's 4-for-8.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw noticed.
"I was wondering about that myself," she said. "I can't wait to watch the film. I think if you look close enough you could see fouls pretty much on every possession. But I think we had plenty of opportunities to get to the free-throw line and we weren't able to do it as well as they did."
It should be noted UConn took only three more free throws through three quarters than the Irish did. The Huskies' advantage was built down the stretch as Notre Dame fouled to stop the clock and extend the game.
UConn hit its first 14 free throws until Gabby Williams missed the first of a two-shot foul with 1:34 remaining.
Freshman Crystal Dangerfield torched then-No. 2 Baylor for 19 points in the Huskies' win over the Bears at Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 17.
But playing No. 2 Notre Dame on the road was tougher, and not only because she was matched up against one of top point guards in the nation in senior Lindsay Allen. Dangerfield finished with four points, two rebounds and two assists, but also five turnovers in 24 minutes. She was on the floor for 16 straight minutes of the second half after starter Saniya Chong needed to come out after taking a shot to the face.
"I thought that Crystal had a couple of good moments," Auriemma said. "I thought she looked a little overwhelmed the first time she was out there. I thought she looked like the moment was a little too big for her. It's the first time she's been in that situation on the road and she'll learn from it.
"I'm trying to get our guards to contribute more when the ball is not in their hands. She passed up a lot of opportunities that she would normally take. You could tell she wasn't comfortable. She'll get it better at it. But I wasn't the only who called her the next Isiah Thomas after the Baylor game, you (media) guys did."
The only other reserve Auriemma used was center Natalie Butler, and it was also a struggle. Butler, who had a plus-29 rating in UConn's win over Texas on Sunday, had four rebounds, two assists and three turnovers while missing her only shot in eight minutes against the Irish.
Williams, Samuelson and Kia Nurse all played 40 minutes.
"That's something," Auriemma said. "It was an amazing effort by them, to be honest with you."
Nurse and Samuelson were named to the Wooden Award preseason top 30 on Wednesday. UConn's Breanna Stewart won the Wooden Award the last two seasons. ... Samuelson scored the Huskies' only 3-pointer in the game. ... Notre Dame freshman Jackie Young injured her right ankle when she appeared to land on Samuelson's foot as the Huskies' sophomore drove past her for a layup with 3:07 left. ... Former Huskies Kelly Schumacher and Kelly Faris were at the game. "It doesn't get much better than this," Faris said. ... UConn will host the Irish next season. ... Former UConn All-American Morgan Tuck will join WTIC-AM1080's Bob Joyce for the radio broadcast of the Huskies' game at Kansas State on Sunday.