ND Women’s Basketball: Elite Eight bound
Chris Masoud | Monday, March 26, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. – No double-doubles, no highlight-reel baskets and no exciting lead changes. No. 4 Notre Dame’s 79-35 victory over No. 21 St. Bonaventure in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament’s Raleigh Regional was simply a casual, dominant defensive performance from the opening tip.
The Irish defense never relinquished, forcing 21 turnovers and holding St. Bonaventure (31-4, 14-0 Atlantic 10) to just nine field goals, the fewest ever in an NCAA tournament game. Averaging 14.3 points per game, Bonnies leading scorer senior Jessica Jenkins was held scoreless for this first time this season.
“I’m really pleased with our defense,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Our goal was to shut down Jenkins, and I thought [graduate student guard] Brittany Mallory did an outstanding job, as well as [senior guard] Fraderica Miller and everybody else that guarded her doing the game … I thought we forced them into some turnovers, and did a better job on the boards in the second half.”
Despite a five-minute, 27-second scoring drought in the first period, Notre Dame (33-3, 15-1 Big East) rallied past the Bonnies with runs of 13-2 and 20-7 to open up a 22-point lead heading into the break. Senior guard Natalie Novosel scored a game-high 16 points and Kayla McBride chipped in 10, as Notre Dame shot a blistering 64 percent in the second half.
Notre Dame’s remarkable defensive effort set multiple NCAA tournament records. The 44-point margin of victory matches a record high in a regional semifinal, while St. Bonaventure’s 35 points marked a Sweet 16 record-low.
“They’re able to get up on you, and then if you do get by them, they have great shot blockers and they react really well to the ball,” Bonnies coach Jim Crowley said. “They have such smart hands, and they understand how to go for the ball … They’re so much better in person than on film, and I thought they were terrific on film.”
After the Irish opened up a 40-point lead with over 10 minutes remaining in the second half, McGraw substituted her bench and junior guard Kaila Turner took full advantage, knocking down a career-high four 3-pointers and maintaining Notre Dame’s defensive intensity. McGraw said this year’s squad, from Naismith Trophy finalist junior guard Skylar Diggins to the bench, has been driven to return to the NCAA tournament finals after falling just short in 2011.
“This is a really competitive group … When we lost last year, I think the whole summer workout for them was about getting back and having extra motivation to try to get back to that,” she said.
Mallory, whose defensive effort prevented Jenkins from being a factor in Sunday’s contest, said last season’s narrow loss in the national title game has given Notre Dame a chip on its shoulder despite its No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional.
“The last game last year, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted, so we’ve really been using that as our emphasis this year, really trying to push us forward,” she said.
With the win, Notre Dame advances to the Raleigh Regional finals where it will take on No. 5 Maryland (31-4, 12-4 ACC), 81-74 winners over Texas A&M in the first regional semifinal contest. The Terps are 4-1 all-time against Notre Dame.
Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m. in Raleigh, N.C.
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