ND Women’s Basketball
Irish start, finish strong in ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over Hawkeyes
Benjamin Padanilam | Thursday, December 1, 2016
No. 1 Notre Dame overcame poor second and third quarters to top Iowa, 73-58, in its ACC/Big Ten Challenge game Wednesday night in Iowa City, Iowa.
From the 1:52 mark in the first quarter to the 2:37 mark of the third quarter, the Hawkeyes (5-3) outscored the Irish, 39-27, and turned a 14-point Notre Dame lead into a two-point margin. However, the Irish (7-0) used a strong start and finish to propel themselves to victory, despite what Irish head coach Muffet McGraw described as an unsatisfactory performance.
“I thought that we looked really sluggish,” McGraw said. “We were kind of going through the motions. We got out to a little bit of an early lead, and I think we just relaxed. I didn’t think we brought our intensity on defense — lot of fundamental mistakes. … We didn’t play as I wanted to, but I felt we did enough good things at the end to win the game.”
The opening and closing quarters would prove to be critical for the Irish in the winning effort. Notre Dame was in control of the game early, starting the contest on a 21-7 run and ending the first quarter leading 23-15. Its defense forced nine Iowa turnovers in the period, and sophomore guard Marina Mabrey led the offensive effort, scoring all nine of her points in the period. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw credited the defensive effort for propelling the team to its early lead.
“Defense — I mean we got turnovers right off the bat,” McGraw said. “ … They were just a little off, maybe, to start the game, and I thought, defensively, we were better.”
However, the Hawkeyes fought their way back into the game during the middle stretch of play, as Iowa’s duo of senior guard Ally Disterhoft and sophomore forward Megan Gustafson — who were the only Hawkeyes in double figures with 18 and 16 points, respectively — led the comeback effort. McGraw particularly praised the play of Gustafson, who also grabbed 11 rebounds in the game.
“I thought that Megan Gustafson was phenomenal. She really played well,” McGraw said. “She had a great game — a double-double — [and] really hurt us. We didn’t have an answer for her. Tried trapping her in the first half, got a couple of turnovers but overall, she was really a tougher matchup than I expected.”
But the stretch had just as much to do with the Notre Dame’s poor play as it did Iowa’s resiliency, McGraw added.
“Pretty much everything [went wrong],” she said. “I don’t think we were doing anything well. We weren’t containing the ball, we weren’t guarding, and we weren’t boxing out. We weren’t making layups, we weren’t making good decisions — we just couldn’t wait for the buzzer to go off. We just wanted the game to be over. At least, that’s what it looked like.”
From that 2:37 mark in the third on, however, the Irish regained control of the contest and ended it on a 23-10 run to bring the game to its 73-58 final.
Junior forward Brianna Turner led the Irish offensively in the game with 15 points. The Irish made it a point at various times throughout the game to get the ball inside and give Turner scoring chances, but McGraw said she felt her team still has to learn to take advantage of all the opportunities to score inside, especially when teams have been playing Turner more physical as of late.
“I think we had a little more team speed,” McGraw said. “We do like to drive the ball, and we were trying to drive it a little bit more. I thought we shot too many 3s today, and trying to throw the ball inside — I thought [Turner] was open, [senior forward Kristina Nelson] was open. We’re just not good at looking in right now.”
Now off to a 7-0 start, Notre Dame will have a few days off before taking on Valparaiso on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. The following game next Wednesday, however, will mark the biggest game of the season so far for the top-ranked Irish when they host No. 2 Connecticut.
Notre Dame and Valparaiso tip-off at 1 p.m. Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.