ND Women’s Basketball: Irish lose to No. 1 UConn
Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, January 28, 2008
With 11:12 left in the first half, Irish center Melissa D’Amico nailed a baseline fadeaway jump shot to bring the Irish level with No. 1 Connecticut at 21-21. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, that was the last field goal it would hit in the next 10:52.
The Irish eventually fell to the Huskies 81-64 Sunday at the Joyce Center.
The top-ranked Huskies took control defensively in the first half and pounded the ball inside to center Tina Charles as part of a 22-6 run heading into the intermission.
Irish guard Charel Allen (5-of-14 shooting for 11 points) said the Connecticut defense clamped down during that run, forcing Notre Dame to take bad shots.
“Their defense was great. A lot of shots I took I was rushing,” she said. “A lot of them I just didn’t hit, but [Irish coach Muffet McGraw] wanted me to continue to shoot.”
The Irish held strong early in the Connecticut run and managed to stay within seven points for two-and-a-half minutes while Huskies guard Renee Montgomery – who averages 12 points and four assists per game – sat on the bench.
But McGraw said her team failed to take advantage of the opportunity.
“That was when – with Montgomery out of the game – that we really needed to make a run,” McGraw said. “And that’s where you just got to find somebody to score and unfortunately we couldn’t find anyone.”
After four Irish free throws brought Notre Dame back to within five points, the Huskies offense found its footing by relying on Charles in the post.
Charles – who finished with a game-high 22 points in addition to eight boards and a block – took advantage of Notre Dame’s triangle-and-two and box-and-one defenses and dominated in the low post.
Charles was also able to work well against Notre Dame’s attempts to double-team her because of a lack of execution on Notre Dame’s part.
“We knew we had to double-team her to stop her and we weren’t able to get the other person down there,” McGraw said.
McGraw took the blame for her team’s inability to stop Charles down low, saying she should have worked more on preventing the 6-foot-4 sophomore from getting the ball.
Charles said playing down low was just a big part of Huskies coach Geno Auriemma’s game plan all season.
“Coach [Auriemma] always tells the post players to be aggressive in the lane and dominate as much as you can and that’s what I did,” she said.
Connecticut was able to maintain a healthy lead throughout most of the second half because of its defense.
The biggest scare Notre Dame gave Connecticut in the second half came at the 8:28 mark when the Irish were down by 12. Irish guard Ashley Barlow drove hard to the basket and attempted a layup, which was blocked by Huskies forward Charde Houston. The Huskies took the ball down the court on a fast break when Montgomery pulled up from behind the 3-point line and nailed a shot that put Connecticut up by 15 and forced Notre Dame to use a timeout.
McGraw and Auriemma both said the play was a big momentum swing that helped decide the outcome of the game.
McGraw said the play was also big because a foul could have been called on Barlow’s layup attempt.
“That play really affected the morale of the team,” she said. “We lost it for a few minutes there and that’s something that we need to learn – to weather that storm a little bit better.”
Barlow said she remembered the play but didn’t know for certain if she was fouled or not.
The game seemed to start off as a game of one-on-one between Allen and Huskies freshman guard Maya Moore. At the first official timeout, with Connecticut leading 15-11, Moore had scored all 15 Huskies points and Allen had nine of Notre Dame’s.
While Allen remained a presence in Notre Dame’s offense the rest of the night, Moore disappeared, finishing with only those 15 points she scored in the opening minutes of the game.
One reason for Moore’s drought was McGraw’s switch from a standard 2-3 zone to the triangle-and-two and box-and-one defense to try and stop the guard from getting any more easy looks. Moore said she has to play better when going up against unconventional defenses like the ones she saw Sunday night.
“I think I should find other ways to score when they are throwing those different types of defenses at me,” she said. “I have to find other ways to be productive offensively like crashing the boards for offensive rebounds.”
Despite giving up 81 points for the second consecutive game, McGraw said she feels her team has improved considerably on defense, especially when compared to its game against Tennessee on Jan. 5.
McGraw also said she no longer feels her team is “the worst defensive team in the Big East” – her sentiment after the Irish lost 81-80 on Jan. 22 against DePaul.
“I think we see that we’re more of a zone team,” McGraw said. “We had some success with the zone tonight so I think we need to look at that tonight.”
uFreshman forward Devereaux Peters had her first collegiate double-double Sunday night, but still thought that she could have played better.
“I still have to work on my fouls,” she said. “That’s a major problem for me. I feel like that’s really hurting the team a lot.”
uSunday night’s game was a sellout – the second this season for Notre Dame and the fifth in team history. The first this season was against Tennessee on Jan. 5.