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Women’s Basketball: Barlow bursts onto scene

Eric Retter | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In the first row under the east basket, a woman held a sign that began, “Ashley [Barlow] is good at basketball.”

By the end of Notre Dame’s 85-81 overtime win Monday over Bowling Green, that sign was the understatement of the evening.

Barlow finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds to record her first double-double in just her second career game at the collegiate level, and the 5-foot-9 guard was Notre Dame’s major contributor in the paint.

For much of the game, the freshman’s breakout performance was overshadowed by the offensive totals of the upperclassmen guards: senior Tulyah Gaines and junior Charel Allen. Allen’s 21 points were a career best, and Gaines, who averaged 4.9 points per game last season, had a breakout of her own, scoring a game- and career-high 25 points -11 higher than her previous personal best.

For most of the game, Gaines was the star of the Notre Dame unit. When the Irish trailed – which they did from 4:25 into the game until a Crystal Erwin free throw made it 68-68 with just under six minutes to play in regulation – it was Gaines who kept the Irish from falling hopelessly behind.

Despite being the smallest player on the court, Gaines continually found herself making layups to keep Notre Dame’s hopes alive. When the Irish trailed 27-14 with 6:26 to play in the first half, it was Gaines who beat Falcons guard Kate Achter to the basket on consecutive Notre Dame possession to bring the Bowling Green lead under 10.

“We could have lost our composure [in the first half], but that’s where Tulyah [Gaines] stepped in and said, ‘No, we’re not gonna cave in,'” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

However, after Gaines missed her first free throw in nine attempts with 7.3 seconds left – a shot that would have iced the game for Notre Dame at 79-75 – Falcons forward Liz Honegger hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and the stage was set for Barlow to steal the show.

In the five minute overtime period, Barlow pulled down three big rebounds and scored six of Notre Dame’s seven points. She shot a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line, and when Gaines – who was 9-of-11 from the line – missed her second free throw, Barlow stepped up and nailed both of her free throws on the ensuing Irish possession to give Notre Dame a secure four-point lead with 3.8 seconds to play.

“I just tried to stay composed,” Barlow said.

Surprisingly, Barlow had a pedestrian first half, and she went into the locker room with only four points and no rebounds. Barlow said associate head coach Coquese Washington pulled her and guard Breona Gray aside, saying they needed to increase their presence on the glass.

Barlow certainly got the message, finishing the game with six offensive rebounds and shot 11-of-12 from the free throw line. It’s extremely rare to see a rookie player take over a game so early in the season the way Barlow did in Monday’s closing moments – much less hit two game-winning field goals as coolly as if she was shooting them in her backyard.

McGraw says she saw this coming.

“I really expected that Ashley would be that kind of player down the stretch,” she said. “I was really confident in our guards, and I thought they played really well.”

How’s that for an understatement.