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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish fall to No. 1 team in final

Joe Monardo | Sunday, November 20, 2011

After advancing easily into the final round of the Preseason WNIT, outscoring their opponents by a combined 140 points in three games, the Irish came up short against Baylor 94-81 in Sunday’s championship game.

No. 2 Notre Dame (3-1) utilized a stifling defense to lead the charge through the first three rounds of the tournament, but was unable to find an answer for No.1 Baylor (3-1) in the title game. Junior center Brittney Griner led the Bears by racking up 32 points on 14-18 shooting from the field, while grabbing 14 rebounds and recording five blocks for her third double-double of the year.

“We expected coming in that she was going to be able to have her way inside, and we tried a couple of different looks on her, but it didn’t really matter,” Irish coach Muffett McGraw said. “She shot the ball extremely well. She’s an incredibly talented young lady.”

In their first away game of the year, the Irish jumped ahead in the early minutes and were able to stay with the Bears for a large part of the first half, trailing 18-19 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the opening stanza. However, Baylor used an 11-2 run to open up a sizeable lead that it would maintain until halftime, when the Bears held a 47-36 lead.

The Irish opened the second half with a 15-6 run during which they had success defending Griner, McGraw said.

“We packed in the zone, and I thought it was pretty effective for the first four minutes of the second half,” she said. “They missed some shots and turned it over a little bit, and we kind of got back into gear a little bit better. But they found her pretty quickly after that four minute stretch.”

The Irish used the scoring run to pull within two, but the Bears quickly answered with a 10-1 run of their own to pull away from the Irish for good.

Adding to the difficulties presented by Griner, Baylor sophomore guard Odyssey Sims scored 25 points while notching six assists and six steals. Junior forward Destiny Williams had a double-double for the Bears with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“I have to say that we came into the game expecting that [Griner] would score, but I was disappointed with the way we guarded the other players,” McGraw said. “I thought we struggled to contain the ball, we put them on the line way too much and we didn’t play the kind of defense that we hope to play this year.”

Senior guards Natalie Novosel and Frederica Miller both fouled out for the Irish, who committed 30 team fouls in the game. In the tournament’s first three rounds, the Notre Dame defense forced the opposition into a Preseason WNIT record 69 steals, but the Irish were able to secure only 9 steals against Baylor on Sunday.

The Irish also came up short on the boards against Baylor and were outrebounded 37-52, a deficit that is especially deflating for the Irish, junior guard Skylar Diggins said.

“Defensively, our number one goal was to board, but we didn’t,” she said. “We missed some box-out assignments and things like that. We’ve got to stay disciplined.”

In a losing effort, Novosel led the Irish with a career high 28 points, while Diggins contributed 27 points, four rebounds and three assists, but also turned the ball over seven times. The only other player to score in double figures for the Irish was sophomore guard Kayla McBride, who added 11 points to the cause.

For a team with championship aspirations, the loss could pay dividends for the Irish in the long run, McGraw said.

“I think this was a good learning experience, and we have some great film to watch,” she said. “We can improve a lot. It’s great that it’s in November and we can look ahead to what we want to be and know that we’re not there now.”

The Irish return to action Friday when they take on Southern California in the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas.

 

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu