ND Women’s Basketball
Balanced offense leads Irish over Volunteers
Mary Green | Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The first 20 times Notre Dame faced Tennessee, the Lady Volunteers came away with a win in each game.
But Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she much prefers to think about the last six times, all of which Notre Dame has won, including a 79-66 victory Monday night at Purcell Pavilion.
The No. 3 Irish (17-1, 5-0 ACC) relied on a balanced offensive attack throughout the night against the No. 18 Lady Vols (11-6, 2-2 SEC), with six players in double-figure scoring — sophomore forwards Brianna Turner (14) and Kathryn Westbeld (13), freshman guards Arike Ogunbowale (14) and Marina Mabrey (13), graduate student guard Madison Cable (10) and junior guard Lindsay Allen (10).
This marks the second time this season Notre Dame has had that many players in double digits, with the first coming against Valparaiso on Nov. 23.
“I think we’re harder to guard when everybody’s a threat, and I think that’s what makes our offense good,” McGraw said. “ … I think anytime you put five people on the floor who can all score, you’re hard to guard.”
The forwards Westbeld and Turner particularly stood out on the stat sheet, facing a taller Tennessee lineup down low that included 6-foot-6 center Mercedes Russell, whom the pair limited to six points and six rebounds, while adding their own contributions on offense.
“Our post game [was] 13-for-17 from the field, just a tremendous day against some really, really good players, like Mercedes Russell and [forward] Bashaara Graves — really, really great athletes, great players, really hard to score on, and I thought we did a really good job on them,” McGraw said.
Turner also pulled down nine rebounds and tallied five blocks for the fourth time this season and the second time in three games.
One of those deflections came on a big play in the fourth quarter in which she made a block from behind, snatched the loose ball, took it all the way downcourt, missed a layup but made her putback to lift the sellout Purcell crowd to its feet.
But by that time, the game was all but settled, despite a shaky first half for the Irish.
Notre Dame trailed Tennessee, 18-15, at the end of a first quarter in which the teams combined for nine turnovers, but the Irish hit their stride in the second 10 minutes.
Ogunbowale scored her first nine points during that time, and the Irish took a lead midway through the quarter that they never relinquished. They went into the locker room up 36-29, thanks in large part to a 15-2 tear to close the half.
The Irish took off from there in the third quarter, when they shot 71 percent from the field and never led by fewer than five points. Notre Dame also locked down on defense in that time, allowing just 21 points in the second and third quarters while scoring 42 for themselves.
“I just thought they attacked, they ran back doors. We knew what they were doing, and we just got undisciplined,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “ … I thought we did a great job the first half of just keeping people in front of us, and the second half, we didn’t. We gave them open looks, and then we fouled jump shooters, we fouled people who were driving to the basket. At times, we were not very disciplined and smart.”
Turnovers continued to be a problem for both teams, as the Lady Vols gave the ball away 20 times, while the Irish did so 18 times. However, Notre Dame was better able to capitalize on its takeaways, tallying 24 points off turnovers, while Tennessee managed 15.
“We need to start talking about taking care of [the ball] better in different situations,” McGraw said. “I think we were really sloppy to start the game, and that’s a problem for us because other teams get going in transition when we turn it over, too, so I think it’s something we’ve got to look at individually.”
While Notre Dame struggled in the game’s final two minutes, allowing 10 points, missing three free throws and committing three fouls in that stretch, the team’s cushion — as large as 25 points — was big enough that the sloppy plays never threatened the victory.
After the nonconference win, the Irish will resume their ACC schedule Thursday, when they face Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion.