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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame struggles during fourth quarter in upset defeat at Tennessee

| Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Despite leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, Notre Dame faltered down the stretch at Tennessee and fell 71-69, as the Volunteers sunk a go-ahead jumper in the closing seconds.

The sixth-ranked Irish (14-3, 4-1 ACC) led by 15 points after scoring the first basket of the second half and held a 14-point lead as late as the final two minutes of the third quarter, but they were outscored 23-7 by the Volunteers (11-6, 2-2 SEC) over the game’s final 12 minutes to suffer just their third loss of the year.

“I thought Tennessee really did just a great job down the stretch,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “When they made their run, they rebounded — they held us to one shot, and that was the difference in the game. We were out-rebounding them in the first half, but in the second half, we could not get a rebound, especially at the offensive end.

“ … Just made a lot of mistakes, but to their credit, they took advantage of all of the mistakes we made.”

Much of Tennessee’s damage down the stretch came in the fourth quarter, as the Irish shot just 21 percent from the floor in the period and did not attempt a single free throw. The Volunteers, on the other hand, converted all six of their free throws and out-rebounded the Irish 17-5 in the game’s final period to work their way back into the game.

“We missed a lot of layups,” McGraw said of her team’s fourth quarter. “We drove the ball like we wanted to [but] couldn’t get to the free-throw line — that was really bad. In the fourth quarter, they only had one team foul going into the end of the game, and that won the game for them. So if we could’ve gotten to the free-throw line in that fourth quarter, I think it would have been a little different at the finish.”

“I think they were just outworking us,” senior guard Lindsay Allen said, echoing McGraw’s sentiment. “ … We weren’t being smart on offense, we were turning the ball over and they were just coming down and bullying us out there — they were getting offensive rebounds, they were making layups [and] they were getting 50-50 balls.

“We were just outworked in the fourth quarter.”

Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen fights through contact to go up for a layup during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.Allison Culver | The Observer

Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen fights through contact to go up for a layup during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.

McGraw also cited the team’s defensive effort as a cause of the poor finish.

“Really disappointed in our effort defensively,” McGraw said. “Our inability to guard the ball screen, I thought, really killed us down the stretch.”

That struggle defending the ball screen was displayed on the game’s final basket, a jumper by junior forward Jaime Naird with just over 10 seconds remaining in the game. Naird came around a ball screen on the play, which gave her a one-on-one matchup with Irish junior forward Brianna Turner. Turner backed off to play the dribble drive, but Naird — who was 3-of–11 from the floor at that point — pulled up for the jumper from the elbow and knocked it down. The Irish were then unable to score on their final possession, and the Volunteers walked away, having completed their comeback effort to steal a victory from the Irish.

The fourth quarter struggles undercut what was a strong performance for the Irish through three quarters. As a team, they shot nearly 57 percent and had 15 assists, paced by Allen’s game-high 10 assists. Sophomore guard Marina Mabrey paced the Irish with 17 points, 10 of which came in the first half. Turner also had 10 points in the first half, but she was held scoreless through the next two quarters.

For the Volunteers, Diamond DeShields was the offensive leader, particularly in the second half. The redshirt junior guard finished with 20 points, including the first eight points scored by either team in the fourth quarter — which narrowed the gap from double-figures to just two points for Tennessee.

“She got to the free-throw line and made her free throws,” McGraw said of DeShields. “She didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we had difficulty staying in front of her. We had a freshman guarding her, and that was probably a mistake on my part. We really couldn’t find her in the zone, [and] we let her run free.”

When Notre Dame next takes the court, it will square off with Boston College and will return to ACC play for the remainder of their regular season. And while it hopes and expects to get back on track after the defeat, particularly with two more road games this week, don’t expect it to look at its most recent road loss as a learning experience.

“Apparently none,” McGraw said when asked what lessons her team has learned from two tough losses in hostile environments. “We continue to beat ourselves, so we haven’t learned that lesson yet.”

The Irish and Eagles are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Conte Forum.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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