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Updated: Sunday, January 30, 2005 7:31 PM EST
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Notre Dame 78, (16) Connecticut 74

SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Ticker) -- Marcus Williams missed an easy basket at a most inconvenient time.

Williams front-rimmed a finger roll that would have tied the game with about 15 seconds left as No. 16 Connecticut fell to Big East Conference rival Notre Dame, 78-74.

Torin Francis scored 19 points to pace the Fighting Irish (13-5, 5-3 Big East), who rallied from a seven-point deficit midway through the second half en route to avoiding a third straight defeat.

"We had our backs up against the wall today after those past couple losses (at Georgetown and Villanova)," Francis said. "If we play as if our backs are up against the wall every game, we'll be unstoppable."

Connecticut (12-5, 4-3) held a 74-72 edge before Francis dunked and was fouled with 2:45 remaining. He missed the ensuing free throw, but Dennis Latimore made a layup with 2:03 left to give Notre Dame the lead for good.

After several fruitless possessions by both teams, Williams stole the ball from Notre Dame's Chris Quinn with just under 20 seconds left and raced downcourt for an uncontested basket. But he did not put enough on his shot, and Irish guard Chris Thomas grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 14 seconds remaining.

"I have missed many of those kind of shots myself," Thomas said. "When he dropped it on the rim like that with all the momentum going and the game on the line - it was a tough shot."

Thomas, who scored 15 points, nailed both free throws to open a four-point cushion, and Connecticut's Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown missed 3-pointers before time expired.

Brown scored a season-high 20 points for the Huskies, who had won five of their previous six meetings with the Irish. Williams had 10 points and tied his school record with 16 assists.

Freshman Rudy Gay scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting for Connecticut, which shot 53 percent (17-of-32) in the first half but just 39 percent (11-of-28) after the break.

Connecticut post players Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva were limited to six points apiece by the Irish, who outscored the Huskies in the paint, 38-20.

"We definitely didn't play our best basketball," Boone said. "They beat us on the boards today. Torin and Dennis Latimore played really good games. That was really the key today."

"They had 38 points in the paint today and they completely dominated our frontcourt," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "Latimore and Francis did a wonderful job."

Quinn and Latimore each scored 12 points for Notre Dame in a contest that featured 13 ties and seven lead changes.

"I was so happy for Dennis because he has been struggling a little lately, and now I think we have him back in the right frame of mind," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "Quite frankly, I'm sure our big guys are just sick of hearing how good everybody else's big guys are."

© 2005 STATS, Inc