ND Women’s Basketball
Stanford knocks off top-seeded Notre Dame in Sweet 16
Daniel O'Boyle | Wednesday, March 30, 2016
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Before No. 1 seed Notre Dame had even stepped on the court at Rupp Arena to face No. 4-seeded Stanford, things looked to be falling into place for the Irish.
Seventh-seeded Washington had knocked off No. 3 seed Kentucky for a place in the Lexington Region final, while in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, top-seeded South Carolina fell to No. 4 seed Syracuse; the path to the championship looked clear for the Irish (33-2, 16-0 ACC).
Forty minutes later, there was no path. It was the Cardinal (27-7, 14-4 Pac-12) who advanced with a 90-84 victory as the Irish missed a berth in the Final Four for the first time since 2010.
In a frantically-paced first quarter, the Irish took a 12-8 lead before Stanford scored 10 unanswered points to make it 18-12. The difference between the teams would swing back and forth, but the Cardinal would never relinquish that lead. By the end of the first quarter, the Irish trailed 28-21, their first deficit at the end of the opening quarter since they travelled to Louisville on Feb. 7.
The Irish offense worked as normal, but defensively the team continued to struggle in the second quarter as Stanford widened its lead to 50-39. It was the most the Irish had trailed by at halftime since a Jan. 2015 defeat at Miami (Fla.). The Cardinal shot 20-of-31 for a .645 shooting percentage in the first half and were 6-of-9 from 3-point range. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said the Cardinal simply outplayed her team in the opening half.
“I thought Stanford was the better team today,” McGraw said. “They played extremely well. I thought [junior forward Erica] McCall was phenomenal, and we just didn’t have an answer for her in the first half. Defensively we just couldn’t guard them.”
McCall had 19 of Stanford’s opening half points on 9-of-11 shooting, on her way to a career-high 27 for the night. McGraw said McCall’s versatility in scoring made her hard to deal with.
“We knew that coming in, we saw her on film and she’s definitely improved her face-up game and her release,” McGraw said. “She could shoot when she was guarded. She wasn’t always wide open. She did a really good job of just mixing up her shots and moving well without the ball.”
The Irish took three minutes to get out of the gates in the second half and score again, enough time for Stanford to open up a 15-point lead, their largest of the game. The Irish clawed away at the Cardinal lead throughout the third quarter, bringing it to within seven after a three-pointer from freshman guard Marina Mabrey, but Stanford kept distance between the teams and ended the quarter leading 67-57. Junior guard Lindsay Allen said she still felt the game was within reach despite the steep deficit.
“I don’t think we ever panic in those situations,” Allen said. “We figure out a way to dig down deep and get stops and convert on our offense. But you can’t spot a team with that kind of shooting percentage in the first half and expect to kind of dig your way out of the hole in the second half. It was tougher because they still shot really well in the second half.
“I think it was just us kind of figuring out a way to dig deep and they couldn’t do that. And they shot timely 3s in the fourth quarter that were just hard to overcome.”
In the fourth quarter, the Irish fought back several times to bring the game within touching distance. But each time, the Cardinal pushed them back away. Graduate student guard Madison Cable and Allen scored the first points of the quarter to bring the Irish within two scores, but junior guard Karlie Samuelson moved the Cardinal back into a comfortable position with a 3-pointer.
When two free throws from Allen brought the Irish back to within four, junior guard Brianna Roberson sunk the 3-point shot that would widen the Cardinal lead. Then, when Cable brought the Irish back within one score with 2:05 left on the clock, the first one-score difference since exactly 20 minutes beforehand, Samuelson dealt the killer blow. As the shot clock expired, her effort from well beyond the three-point line struck the backboard before going through the hoop. McGraw said the Cardinal’s ability to score three-pointers at the most crucial times is what prevented a comeback.
“They hit a dagger 3,” McGraw said. “We were focusing in on finding Samuelson and (Lili) Thompson and I think Roberson hit a 3 from the corner late in the game that really kind of got us. Then I think (Marta) Sniezek went down with like a coast-to-coast layup and nobody guarded her, and she went right in for a layup. They got us 5-0, and that was key. The 3 that Samuelson hit with the shot clock going off with two seconds left and banked it in, that was one of those nights for them. They managed to make big plays. They made the free throws down the stretch. Did everything they needed to do to win. I think normally you have to have the other team help you out. When you’re trying to come back, they have to miss some shots and we just couldn’t get them to miss.”
With the Irish forced to foul, the Cardinal would not throw away the game from the free-throw line, making all six of their attempts within the last thirty seconds to win the game 90-84. McGraw said she believed her team fought hard despite the defeat that will end their season.
“I’m proud of the way we fought,” McGraw said. “Our seniors had a great season, a great year and we’ve been on the other side of this, and now it’s our turn to go home early and work on next year.”