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ND Women’s Basketball

Hadley: It’s just one loss

| Monday, December 8, 2014

In some ways, No. 5 Notre Dame’s 76-58 loss to No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday was eerily similar to its national championship loss to the Huskies last season.

Once again, Connecticut dominated in the paint, as Notre Dame’s top post player was sidelined by injury.

Once again, the Irish guards desperately tried to keep their team in the game, going one-on-one and throwing up dozens of shots.

Once again, at game’s end, Irish fans sat in stunned silence after starting the game with raucous enthusiasm. Even the score was practically identical, 79-58 in the NCAA championship and 76-58 this weekend.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this is December, not April.

Connecticut may have dominated Notre Dame this weekend, but there is plenty of basketball left to be played. While some may place great stock in momentum swings and confidence-boosting wins, the Irish are young enough, and Muffet McGraw is a good enough coach to make sure that her team will move on.

Jewell LoydJodi Lo | The Observer

Jewell Loyd

In the grand scheme of the 2014-2015 season, one nonconference loss in December will not sink the Irish, just as a win would not have defined them. If anything, with such a youthful squad, McGraw is fortunate to now have the chance to examine what went wrong and see how her team responds to adversity.

The other good news on the night is that freshman forward Brianna Turner’s right shoulder injury is not as serious as it could have been. She is officially listed as day-to-day.

The Irish absolutely need Turner to have any chance against Connecticut if the two meet again. The Huskies won the rebound battle, 52-34, and put up 44 points in the paint, compared to 28 from Notre Dame.

Geno Auriemma’s squad was simply too big and too long for the Irish to contain. At several points, 5-foot-11 senior guard Madison Cable or 5-foot-10 junior guard Jewell Loyd were tasked with containing reigning AP Player of the Year junior forward Breanna Stewart, who is 6-foot-4. She had no problem scoring 15 points and collecting nine rebounds.

That left sophomore forward Taya Reimer and senior forward Markisha Wright to try to contain senior center Kiah Stokes and redshirt sophomore Morgan Tuck. They were not up to the task. Stokes grabbed 18 rebounds in 24 minutes and Tuck scored a career-high 25 points.

If the 6-foot-3 Turner had been healthy, the entire dynamic of the game could have changed. Maybe Loyd would not have to attempt 27 field goals in a desperate comeback attempt. Maybe Stewart, Stokes and Tuck would not have been as dominant inside. Maybe.

Turner’s absence is not a complete excuse for the loss. Junior guard Michaela Mabrey, the best 3-point shooter on the squad, was a ghost on the floor Saturday. She went 0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-5 from behind the arc and grabbed only one rebound in 29 minutes. The least that can be said for her is that she did not turn the ball over.

In fact, not a single player in Notre Dame’s starting lineup shot better than 36 percent yesterday. They also combined for 16 turnovers. That’s not good enough to beat Connecticut, with or without Turner.

But the season, like Notre Dame, is still young. And while obviously no one on the Irish bench wants to lose, perhaps it’s best that they did.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw looks on during Notre Dame's 76-58 loss to Connecticut on Saturday.Wei Lin | The Observer

Irish coach Muffet McGraw looks on during Notre Dame’s 76-58 loss to Connecticut on Saturday.

There’s no shame in losing to Connecticut, and McGraw has repeatedly said that a group this young will take its lumps early. Maybe it’s best to simply get the defeat out of the way and remind everyone on the team what it is like to lose. It lowers outside expectations and could give the Irish a chip on their shoulder that McGraw can call upon later.

Ultimately, nothing was at stake for Notre Dame on Saturday night that hasn’t been before. It has already beaten Connecticut. It has already gone undefeated through the regular season. It has already defended its home court time and time again.

The Irish had nothing to prove to themselves, to their fans, to the media or to the Huskies. Sure, a win would have been nice, but if Notre Dame advances to the Final Four or the NCAA championship again, no one will care about whatever happened in December.

In recent years, Notre Dame could beat Connecticut in the regular season but not come tournament time. Maybe this is the year that changes.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg