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Monardo: Irish survive despite poor shooting performance (Mar. 21)

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The same group Irish coach Muffet McGraw repeatedly referred to as the best 3-point shooting team to come through Notre Dame in the past 25 years failed to convert a 3-pointer for the first 27 minutes and 43 seconds of Tuesday’s contest. Notre Dame’s inability to score from deep – the count was 1-of-10 – was surprising, startling and almost inexplicable.

But it wasn’t damning.

And it wasn’t a product of poor guard play, either. Diggins was dazzling, Novosel poured in plenty of points and Kayla McBride made a number of big shots, including Notre Dame’s only three-pointer of the night.

On the season, the Irish are shooting 34.9 percent from beyond the arc, good enough for 25th in the nation but almost certainly well below what McGraw had envisioned at the season’s start. Notre Dame has found other ways to get it done, though, and ranks in the top three nationally in overall field goal percentage, scoring offense and scoring margin.

Against California, the Irish offense evolved (or, some might say, devolved) into a high paced, hard-nosed and quick-handed machine. Sharp cuts, strong finishes and disruptive defense fueled the victory, as they have so many other times this season for the Irish. No three-point shots needed.

After beginning the second half even with the Golden Bears at 31 points, the Irish rode their guards through a frenzied stretch of basketball. Repeatedly, the Irish utilized their superior speed and athleticism to turn the Bears over and get out in transition.

The old adage in basketball is that when a shooter finds herself in a funk, the best course is to shoot herself out of it. The Irish opted to take a different course – one that led them right down the lane and straight to the basket.

The Irish converted 10 second-half steals into quick and easy baskets as they opened up a commanding lead that would sustain them until the final buzzer. California’s offense was effectively erased, and the Irish simultaneously found themselves a ready-made offense.

If you were watching the game, you might have said to yourself, “How is Notre Dame only up three?” If you looked at the statistics, you might have said to yourself, “How is Notre Dame still in the game?”

At halftime, the Irish were shooting 34.5 percent from the field, including 0-of-6 from three. The Bears, meanwhile, were converting 46.4 percent of their shots, including 4-of-8 three-pointers. Even after capturing the 11-point victory, the Irish lost the shooting battle to Cal, most notably from distance.

The one thing that they should have been able to hang their hat on, according to their own coach at the beginning of the season, was providing the Irish nothing but frustration and long rebounds. While this fact serves as a mild cause for concern for the top-seeded Irish moving forward, the fact that they were able to make their own offense is a source of optimism.

Further, that created offense seems to be more reliable than one predicated on draining a large number of jump shots. Novosel successfully attacked the paint, finishing a number of contested layups and converting 18 or 20 free throws. Diggins took over down the stretch, scoring 15 of her 21 points in the second half, many after she squeezed herself into an impossibly small window. When their ability to shoot the ball consistently failed them, the Irish turned to their athleticism, where they will almost always hold an advantage.

As they move into the Sweet 16, the Irish would certainly like to improve on their 11.1 percent shooting from three-point range. But it is just nice to know they will not have to.

 

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu