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ND Women’s Basketball

Huskies dominate the paint in victory

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Irish were feeling the heat in the paint during Tuesday night’s national championship game.

At least that’s what Irish coach Muffet McGraw told Huskies coach Geno Auriemma during the post-game handshake after the Huskies won the national title game by a score of 79-58 Tuesday night.

“I said something like I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while; you guys are just that good,” McGraw said. “I thought they were just missing LeBron.”

LeBron James was not in attendance in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, but UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart and senior center Stefanie Dolson controlled the paint just fine without him. The Huskies (40-0, 18-0 AAC) scored 52 of their points from the key, 30 more than the Irish (37-1, 16-0). UConn out-rebounded Notre Dame, 54-31, and those rebounds translated into a slight advantage in second chance points (18-12). In short, without senior forward Natalie Achonwa, who tore her ACL in Notre Dame’s Elite Eight win over Baylor, the Irish just could not hold their own in the post.

“They just overpowered us,” McGraw said. “They killed us inside. Their bigs were just too much for us.

“I thought Stewart was phenomenal … and Dolson is pretty amazing. I thought we were overmatched in the post.”

And once UConn had taken control under the basket, the rest of the game played into their hands.

“Right from the beginning of the game we went in, took advantage of the size we had against them, and right when we realized what an advantage we had, we just kept kind of pushing it at them, and we never really backed down,” Dolson said. “Give a lot of credit to my guards. They got me the ball. Stewy [Breanna Stewart], we got her the ball a lot in the post, too. When we got it, we just did what we wanted and finished it.”

Auriemma said he had made controlling the post a point of emphasis for the team before the game, but even he was surprised at how effectively his game plan worked.

“We thought that there was some advantages that we had, that whoever was guarding Stewy was going to have a tough matchup in the lane. And Stefanie, the same thing,” Auriemma said. “But you don’t go into a game thinking that you’re going to outscore the other team by 30 points in the paint. You have an idea of what you want to do, but we kind of went back to some things that were working earlier in the season, tried to get real comfortable.

“We hadn’t been shooting the ball great coming in, so the last thing we wanted to do was come out here and start firing jump shots.”

Although the Irish were undoubtedly weaker under the basket without Achonwa, Irish senior guard Kayla McBride did not blame her absence for Notre Dame’s performance under the basket.

“I think that we just came out undermatched,” McBride said. “ I don’t think anything could have changed that. They just came out and they went directly into the post, and our help-side wasn’t there from the get-go. They got comfortable, they got into a rhythm, and it went downhill from there.”

And while the Irish were almost able to match the Huskies in rebounds in the first half, they faltered in the second as UConn outrebounded Notre Dame 34-13

“We really weren’t boxing out at all,” Irish sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey said. “We weren’t getting a body on them. To begin with, they’re bigger than us, and I think we tried to make that a point at halftime, to box it out and get a body on it. We came out and we really didn’t do that. So I think that’s where they got most of their offensive rebounds.”

The Huskies laid claim to the paint, the game and, for at least one more year, the title of best team in the land.

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