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ND Women’s Basketball

Padanilam: Irish need to better prepare for life without Brianna Turner

| Monday, March 20, 2017

Let’s start with the obvious: Notre Dame really missed having Brianna Turner on the floor in the second half.

The junior forward had just scored eight straight points for top-seeded Notre Dame (32-3, 15-1 ACC) in the second quarter, but then she fell to the floor clutching her left knee after attempting to catch a lobbed pass into the paint. With 48 seconds left in the half, a noncontact injury had drastically changed the game’s momentum.

Irish junior forward Brianna Turner catches a pass and looks towards the basket during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Turner injured her left knee on the play, and she is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior forward Brianna Turner catches a pass and looks towards the basket during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Turner injured her left knee on the play, and she did not return to the game.

At the time of the injury, the Irish led by 14. From that point through the end of regulation, however, they would be outscored by that exact margin, as a comfortable win turned into an overtime thriller.

The Irish struggled offensively the rest of the way, particularly in the fourth quarter. In that period, they shot just 3-of-12 from the field. Over the game’s last 5:19? They failed to score a single point, going 0-for-7 from the floor and turning the ball over three times, including two shot-clock violations.

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said the team “completely fell apart offensively” without Turner in the game, citing the forward’s importance to their offense. Without her, the Irish couldn’t use the ball screen effectively, and they were forced to generate their offense by asking senior guard Lindsay Allen or sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale to beat their defenders one-on-one. And they simply couldn’t do it.

The Irish clearly missed Turner on the defensive end as well, as the ninth-seeded Boilermakers (23-13, 10-6 Big Ten) had no problem driving to the basket, drawing fouls and scoring inside. Boilermakers senior guard Ashley Morrissette had 21 of her 23 points in the second half and overtime, and Irish sophomore guard Marina Mabrey — tasked with guarding her — said she struggled to do so without Turner behind her to alter potential shots. Notre Dame’s other forwards struggled too, as junior Kathryn Westbeld fouled out in the fourth quarter while senior Kristina Nelson couldn’t play much defense while trying to avoid picking up her fifth foul in the fourth quarter and overtime.

So with Turner set for an MRI on Monday, the Irish need to start thinking about what they’ll do without her. Because their current plan when she isn’t available doesn’t look good — without a miraculous turnaround bank shot by Mabrey, which McGraw called a “prayer” after the game, the Irish might not even be getting ready to play Ohio State in Lexington, Kentucky, on Friday.

What are their options?

Irish freshman forward Erin Boley defends the paint against Boilermakers sophomore forward Dominique McBryde during Notre Dame’s 88-82 overtime win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish freshman forward Erin Boley defends the paint against Boilermakers sophomore forward Dominique McBryde during Notre Dame’s 88-82 overtime win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

Offensively, perhaps McGraw should have played freshman forward Erin Boley more down the stretch. With Turner out and her other two forwards in foul trouble, Boley saw just 32 seconds of action in the second half. And this was despite the fact that she keyed the second quarter that gave the Irish the 14-point cushion they needed every bit of, as she scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in the period. Whereas the Irish had a plus/minus of -13 with Westbeld on the court in her 20 minutes and just a positive four in Nelson’s 15 minutes, the Irish were +15 in Boley’s six minutes. That’s a change McGraw at least needs to consider if Turner cannot suit up Friday.

One change McGraw did make in the overtime period — that she will need to continue to rely on — is more off-ball movement. Without Turner, the pick-and-roll wasn’t there, and Allen and Ogunbowale struggled to generate offense. But posting up Ogunbowale or setting off-ball screens to get Mabrey open for catch-and-shoot opportunities worked a lot more in the overtime period. Allen is a great passer, so the Irish just need to give her different passing options when Turner isn’t in the lineup.

So yes, the Irish did “survive and advance,” as is the mantra for many teams this time of the year. But there’s a lot to be concerned with, especially if Turner is unable to play against a top-10 Ohio State squad Friday. Because the Irish lost last year in the Sweet 16 with her, and it’s hard to believe they will win without her this year based on Sunday’s performance.

So, if Notre Dame wants to have avoid a repeat of last season, it will need to go back to the drawing board before Friday. And it better hope that McGraw is able to come up with a game plan better than the one currently in place.

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

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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.

Contact Benjamin
  • Thom Villing

    Totally agree with this discussion. Muffet is an amazing coach who has make NDWBB one of America’s consistently elite programs so it is hard to criticize her, but I couldn’t understand two things about the game after Turner’s injury. One was not putting Boley in especially after her strong showing in the first half and after Westbeld got in foul trouble. Does Muffet not have confidence in her defense? She has to be as effective and more mobile than Nelson. Two, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much confusion from our guards trying to get into their sets. Everyone seemed to be out of place. And as great a recruiter as Muffet is, she really needs to recruit a couple more bigs so we have more depth.