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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame ousted from NCAA first round by Minnesota

Bill Brink | Monday, March 23, 2009

The Irish had a home-court advantage, local fans and a second-half run that had the Joyce Center jumping and the team down just two points.

But all those factors couldn’t overcome familiar foes – 3-point defense and rebounding – and Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament run ended early.

Minnesota senior guard Emily Fox had 23 points and junior guard Katie Ohm hit five 3-pointers during the No. 10-seed Gophers’ 79-71 win over No. 7-seed Notre Dame Sunday at the Joyce Center.

The loss knocks the Irish (22-9) out of the Tournament. Minnesota (20-11) advances to the second round of the Tournament against No. 2-seed Texas A&M, who beat No. 15-seed Evansville 80-45 Sunday.

“Same old story, every game, we can’t defend the 3-point line,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

Ohm finished with 15 points. Fox was 7-for-17 from field goal range and had four assists and four steals as well. When junior guard Brittany McCoy got into foul trouble early, Fox took over and played 38 minutes of good basketball.

“[She’s a] great shooter, can do it off the dribble,” Lechlitner said. “Obviously we didn’t look at the scouting report because she did exactly what we knew she was going to do.”

Junior guard Ashley Barlow led the Irish with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Junior guard Melissa Lechlitner had 16 points, seven of them in a second-half run that brought the Irish within two.

The rebounding differential played a large role in the game. Minnesota out-rebounded Notre Dame 45-32 and 34-21 on the defensive end. Gophers junior center Zoe Harper grabbed 13 rebounds herself.

“Second-chance points are huge for our team,” Harper said. “And we knew whoever was going to win the rebounds was going to win the game.”

Notre Dame trailed 42-30 at halftime, but the crowd was rejuvenated after the break and it rubbed off on the team. Notre Dame erased a 13-point deficit with 18:08 remaining with an 11-2 run that made the score 50-46 Gophers with 14:34 left. Lechlitner had seven points during the run, including a driving layup while getting fouled that she turned into a 3-point play by making her foul shot.

“We knew something like this was going to happen but we had to step up and make shots,” Gophers coach Pam Barton said.

Freshman forward Kellie Watson hit a 3-pointer to make the score 53-49, and four foul shots from Lechlitner and freshman forward Erica Solomon brought the Irish within two with 10:19 left. Then Ohm started getting hot. She knocked down three 3-pointers in the next three minutes and Minnesota led 64-56 with 7:05 remaining.

“I just go out there and shoot,” Ohm said. “That’s my role on the team. When in doubt, just shoot it.”

Senior guard Lindsay Schrader experienced back problems early the second half. After grabbing a rebound, Schrader bent over and grabbed her back. She participated in the next defensive series, but eventually fell to the ground and left the game.

“I think the thing we miss the most, we missed her intensity,” McGraw said. “Eight rebounds a game, you miss that.”

It wasn’t clear exactly what happened to Schrader’s back.

The Irish pulled within seven twice in the remaining minutes but could not get any closer. The final minutes turned into a free throw contest, and Minnesota held its edge.

Ohm’s first 3-pointer started a 15-7 run and Minnesota led 25-13 with 10:41 left in the first half. The Gophers took advantage of Notre Dame’s collapsing defense to draw defenders towards a post player, and then they kicked the ball to an open shooter.

Ohm hit her second 3-pointer to give Minnesota a 36-22 lead with 4:29 remaining. The Irish hit six free throws down the stretch and the half ended with Minnesota ahead 42-30.

The Gophers shot 62.5 percent from field goal range in the first half, in part because they found open high-percentage shots. The Irish only hit 34.5 percent of their field goals.

Minnesota also out-rebounded Notre Dame 21-12 in the first half. Notre Dame had only seven defensive rebounds, while Minnesota had 16.

McGraw said the Gophers played with more intensity and had the Irish on their heels.

“They were very, very physical and I don’t think we’ve really seen that,” McGraw said. “We really just lost our rhythm offensively.”