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ND Women’s Basketball: Spinning the Toppers

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, November 14, 2007

With 15:06 left in the first half, Irish point guard Tulyah Gaines sank a long two-point jumpshot to give Notre Dame a 12-3 lead – one it did not relinquish Tuesday as it coasted to a 78-59 win over Western Kentucky in the second round of the preseason women’s NIT.

“I think with a veteran group you really expect to [get a quick lead],” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think when you come out you’re just curious to see who’s going to be the one today that’s going to get us started.”

Gaines was a dominant presence on both ends of the court in the first half. The senior point guard had six points, five assists, three rebounds and no turnovers in 30 minutes.

“I though Tulyah played really well. She had a great floor game. … I just thought she was outstanding as a leader tonight,” McGraw said.

Gaines was also a crucial part of the Irish defensive gameplan. Going into the game, McGraw said, one of Notre Dame’s goals was to take charges against Lady Toppers forwards Dominique Duck and Crystal Kelly in order to try to get them in foul trouble. Gaines took two charges in two minutes against Duck to put the junior in early foul trouble.

McGraw said getting Kentucky’s top players in foul trouble was important.

“We had a lot of things we were looking at, and all of them looked pretty good at practice,” she said. “But my favorite was when [Kelly] was on the bench.”

Kelly had one of the worst games of her career Tuesday, shooting 1-of-7 from beyond the arc with seven points and four boards before fouling out. The performance snapped the senior’s 49-game streak of scoring in double figures. Kelly finished the game without a two-point field goal for the first time in her career at Western Kentucky.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened. Hopefully it will never happen again,” Kelly said.

Irish guard Ashley Barlow helped set the tone for Notre Dame throughout the game. Barlow finished with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.

“I think she’s been great. … To me, she’s the person that steadies us sometimes,” McGraw said. “They were on a run and things got a little sloppy in the second half. She comes in, she drives the ball and gets a layup and gets to the foul line. She’s the one that’s always going to make that big play.”

Barlow said she sees herself simply as a role player who tries to get involved in the offense.

“I just go out there and play my game,” she said. “Whatever Coach wants me to do, that’s what I’m going to go out there and do.”

Western Kentucky was unable to keep up with the Irish in the first half and fell behind 50-23 going into the break. Notre Dame was able to push the score up by using effective fast-break offense throughout the opening half.

“I thought we could have turned the shot clocks off,” McGraw said. “I thought there was a lot of running going on; it was quite a track meet. I was glad we had a lot of depth.”

Even though Notre Dame was able to dominate the first half, Western Kentucky shrank the Irish lead in the second by outscoring the Irish 36-28.

“I thought we got a big lead and we got complacent. You get up thirty and you feel like ‘We’re going to win, let’s just let the clock run,'” McGraw said. “So I was a little disappointed with our execution and our defense in the second half.”

Lady Toppers coach Mary Taylor Cowles said she thought her team stepped up its game in the second half to cut down the lead.

“If we could have put two halves together defensively, then it might have been a different story,” Cowles said.

Notre Dame travels to College Park, Md., on Friday for its first away game of the season against No. 3 Maryland in the NIT semifinals.