Men’s Basketball: Fracas at Freedom Hall
Fran Tolan | Thursday, February 28, 2008
On a night when its offense dominated and its defense smothered, Notre Dame was all smiles.
“Basketball is fun. It should be fun, right?” junior guard Lindsay Schrader said after the game. “Why would you play if it isn’t fun?”
It would be hard for the Irish not to enjoy themselves when they’re winning in convincing fashion, like they did Wednesday in a 92-49 victory over South Florida. Notre Dame (22-6, 10-4 Big East) got its final stretch of three games before the Big East Tournament – and its race for a first-round bye – off to a great start.
“I think our team is starting to peak, and I think it’s the perfect time with the Big East Tournament coming around, and the NCAA Tournament,” Schrader said. “We’ve gotta play two more games really, really hard, and we’ll see where we go from there.”
Schrader had 17 points and 13 rebounds in her second double-double of the season. Senior guard Charel Allen had 14 points, and three other Irish players had double figures. Allen also shut down the Bulls’ offense from her position as the leader of the Irish full-court press.
“She gives us a bigger person at the top, and she really used her length today very well,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of Allen. … She’s smart, she can play the passing lanes really well, and I think that disrupted them initially.”
Senior center Melissa D’Amico, who hasn’t play often this season before freshman forwards Devereaux Peters and Becca Bruszewski suffered injuries, had 10 points on four-of-seven shooting off the bench.
“I’ve been waiting for my opportunity; I’ve been working for it,” D’Amico said. “With Becca and Devereaux out, we weren’t going to get down on ourselves.”
D’Amico made an immediate impact, blocking a shot seconds after she entered the game.
Schrader and Allen controlled the Irish offense in the first five minutes. Schrader had eight points in that span, and Allen, who twice rebounded under the basket and made the put-back, had six.
The Irish led 23-6 until Bulls junior guard Shantia Grace hit a 3-pointer with 9:46 remaining. Notre Dame led by 20 soon after, and when the Irish were up 24 with 3:30 remaining, McGraw emptied her bench.
Notre Dame’s fortunes in the game were displayed as time expired in the first half. Allen’s shot teetered on the rim as the buzzer sounded before dropping in to give Notre Dame a 46-15 lead at the half.
The Bulls were hard-pressed to inbound the ball at times; the Irish grabbed three inbounds passes and deflected another in the first half alone.
“We did a really good job of that today,” she said. “We got some steals off the press as well.”
The Bulls found some semblance of a shot early in the second half, it didn’t make much of a difference.
With less than 14 minutes left, senior guard Tulyah Gaines passed to sophomore guard Melissa Lechlitner, who artfully one-timed the ball to Allen under the basket. After a deft spin, Allen sank the turnaround jumper to make the score 58-25.
Sophomore guard Ashley Barlow had been quiet throughout the game. She was scoreless and had three fouls until she made one of two free throws with 12:05 left in the second half. Visibly frustrated after splitting another pair two minutes later, Barlow forced a steal on the press and drove to the hoop herself for her first field goal of the game. On the next possession, she did the same thing.
After hitting her career-high fourth 3-pointer with 7:53 remaining, freshman guard Brittany Mallory fell to the floor, grasping her left ankle after landing on a defender’s foot. She was helped off the court, but she said her ankle would be fine for Saturday’s game against Seton Hall. Mallory finished with 14 points.
McGraw said there was still work to be done. She had focused on getting Mallory, Allen and Schrader to rebound better in practice – which seems to have worked; Allen had eight, Mallory had seven and Schrader led the team with 13. McGraw also said she wanted to work with what she called a “big guy” lineup, when both D’Amico and sophomore center Erica Williamson were both in the game. Overall, however, McGraw was optimistic about her team’s future.
“We’re playing for a lot of things,” she said. “We’re playing for a seed in the NCAA tournament, how high can we get? We’ve had a great year, we want to keep it going to the Big East tournament.”
– Allen moved into ninth on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list with 1,437 points. She passed current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, who had 1,430. She is also three steals away from becoming the first Notre Dame women’s basketball player with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals.
“I’m so glad that she’s going to leave her mark on the program because she’s done so many great things for us all four years,” McGraw said.
– South Florida’s 15 points in the first half were its fewest all season.
“I think we should be proud of that,” Schrader said. “We should be capable of doing that every game.”