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Hannah Hidalgo propels No. 15 Notre Dame past Paige Bueckers, No. 8 UConn

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During the buildup to No. 8 Connecticut and No. 15 Notre Dame renewing their historic college basketball rivalry for a primetime matchup on FOX on Saturday night, a lot was made about some of the classics that the two programs had staged over the years. There were no shortage of moments to highlight either, with a heavy dose of nostalgia wafting around Gampel Pavilion pregame given the amount of Final Four and national title game clips being played that featured either one or the other cutting down the nets over the years.

Irish guard Hannah Hidalgo was not around for many of those meetings deep into March Madness or in the memorable days of the old Big East however, but the young freshman from New Jersey managed to insert her name into the rivalry’s annals in a new — and big — way by delivering a convincing 82-67 upset victory for the visitors in what felt like another Final Four preview between two of the game’s best sides.

The diminutive guard was borderline unstoppable whenever she had the ball in her hands and was remarkably poised for someone her age, looking quite fearless in a hostile environment to post a game-high 34 points and help lead Notre Dame to an offensive outburst that saw them shoot 55% on the night. Forward Maddy Westbeld added another 23 to the total, including a 3-pointer with 3:25 to go in the fourth quarter that ended up being the dagger that sent much of the crowd on hand to the exits as it became clear that the Huskies’ 13-game winning streak was coming to an end at the hands of their rivals.

Here are three other takeaways from Notre Dame’s resounding victory over UConn:

Hidalgo outduels Bueckers

Irish freshman Hannah Hidalgo is typically one of the smallest players on the court at all of 5-foot-6, but she was the center of attention on national TV in leading her team to a top-10 upset. The productive guard was the natural focal point of Notre Dame’s offense and had 19 of her career-high 34 points through the first two quarters, including a banked 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half. She keyed a remarkable 26-5 run before the break that helped silence the normally raucous home crowd and had an answer in the lane or from beyond the arc (3-of-5 shooting) at pretty much every key point as things got tight down the stretch.

More notably was how Hidalgo thoroughly outdueled former national player of the year Paige Bueckers — pretty much from the moment that the latter swatted away a block of the former less than two minutes after tip off. 

Bueckers, who was averaging over 20 points per game coming in, showed plenty of flashes with a series of nifty moves through the paint to the basket or coming off screens to knock down jumpers, but never seemed to completely assert her influence on the game in the same manner that she has much of the past month. She finished just 5-of-17 from the field in what was more of an off-shooting effort than simply being stymied by some good defense and notably needed several trips to the line (6-of-7 on FTs) just to get her 17 points. 

It wouldn’t be a shock to see both Bueckers and Hidalgo become centerpieces of some March runs later this season but at least on Saturday night, it was the youngster who had the decided advantage on the stat sheet, on the court and on the scoreboard. 

Hannah Hidalgo GOES OFF for 34 points in No. 15 Notre Dame’s victory over No. 8 UConn

Edwards came to play 

It’s only natural for attention to turn toward Bueckers when discussing this UConn team but it was Aaliyah Edwards who kept her team in the game for most of the night at both ends of the court. The senior forward was a force in notching her ninth double-double of the season, posting a team-high 23 points to go with her 10 rebounds. 

Edwards played every minute of the loss and was also able to block a shot and nab a steal. Her midrange game was especially on point during the first quarter and she kept things going with key put-backs around the rim as things wore on, missing just three shots all night.

Guards Ashlynn Shade and KK Arnold chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively, as the only other starters in double-figures. 

Ashlynn Shade makes a layup from KK Arnold’s fast break to give UConn a lead over Notre Dame

Star-studded affair

Bueckers and Hidalgo weren’t the only stars to show up in Storrs for Saturday night’s primetime tilt as there was a bit of a who’s who in women’s basketball up in the stands. Thanks in part to the home side celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the 2003 and 2004 national championship team and the 10-year mark for the 2013 and 2014 group, there were plenty of familiar faces around to take in the action, including former Huskies Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

Perhaps most notable of all was the presence of Diana Taurasi, who said during an appearance on the FOX broadcast that this was her first time back in Gampel Pavilion for a game in nearly 18 years. 

Even more, “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis was also swapping stories courtside with U.S. Women’s National Team legend and recently retired NWSL player Megan Rapinoe.

What’s next for Notre Dame?

Niele Ivey’s squad will enjoy the trip back to South Bend to celebrate such a resounding win over their ex-Big East rivals first and foremost, but conference play beckons just around the corner in what is an increasingly tough ACC this year. The Irish will likely move up a few spots in the rankings, possibly into the top 10, next week before heading down to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech to begin February and return home a few days later to play Pitt. Then things pick up from there with what is likely three ranked teams in conference play in a pivotal stretch in the middle of next month that should go a long way in determining seeding for both the conference and NCAA tournaments. 

What’s next for Connecticut?

The Huskies won’t have much time to regroup from Saturday’s setback as they’ll head to take on Villanova on Wednesday with the resumption of Big East play over the next two weeks. While home games against St. John’s and Seton Hall follow, the result against Notre Dame is likely to increase the pressure even more for Geno Auriemma’s team to figure some things out before a looming showdown against top-ranked and undefeated South Carolina in Columbia on Feb. 11.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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