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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Team gets big effort from Gaines in victory

Bill Brink | Thursday, February 14, 2008

For a 5-foot-7 guard, senior Tulyah Gaines played awfully well in the paint.

Of Gaines’ 10 field goals Wednesday in Notre Dame’s 99-76 win over Marquette, nine of them were layups. Gaines sliced her way to the basket all night en route to a season-high 22 points.

“She really drove the ball well today,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “We kept talking about how we needed to drive and attack the basket, and she really did everything we needed her to do.”

The Irish outscored the Golden Eagles in the paint 52-24, but the points didn’t come from only the post players.

“We were getting layups from our guards,” she said. “It wasn’t like our post players were getting all the points.”

How did those post players do? Center Erica Williamson had nine points, six rebounds and three blocks. Forward Becca Bruszewksi and center Melissa D’Amico each added six points. All six of D’Amico’s points came from foul shots, as did two of Bruszewski’s and three of Williamson’s. Five combined field goals from the post players. Not exactly stellar.

It’s a testament to the spread of talent on the team that Notre Dame still had 28 more points under the basket than Marquette and shot 64.3 percent from the field.

“When you’re shooting in the paint, you’re probably going to do really well,” Golden Eagles coach Terri Mitchell said.

Gaines did what the Irish post players couldn’t – she made high-percentage shots.

Although she’s known for her defense and assists – she ranks seventh in the Big East with a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio – Gaines has stolen the offensive spotlight this week. She could be frustrated with scoring only 6.8 points per game after averaging 9.4 last season. Who knows? Whatever the catalyst, the Irish better hope it sticks around.

Truth be told, Notre Dame needs this unexpected offensive explosion from time to time. In a perfect world, the Irish could feed the ball to Williamson and D’Amico all day, and when their opponents tried to double-team them, they could kick the ball out to guards Ashley Barlow, Charel Allen, Lindsay Schrader and Melissa Lechlitner for open looks.

But life ain’t perfect. Allen sat out most of the first half after two quick fouls and didn’t score a point until two minutes into the second half. The centers scored 15 points. Gaines did what she had to do for the Irish to win.

The Irish don’t have a go-to frontcourt presence to hold down the fort in the post for 20 points and 10 rebounds every night. They don’t have a lights-out perimeter threat. They have hybrids that complement each other, and sometimes take over when necessary. See Barlow’s 23 points against DePaul and Allen’s 26 against Louisville for proof.

The speed of the Irish fast break makes it necessary for every player to be able to score, regardless of position, and that type of system is conducive to big individual nights from time to time. It isn’t just Gaines who played well; Schrader hit 7-of-9 field goal attempts, and had 17 points and six boards. Allen scored all 13 of her points in the second half. But that doesn’t surprise us. Schrader and Allen are supposed to score. Gaines isn’t, at least based on past precedent. Right?

She made us re-think our convictions.

Notre Dame players have a penchant for hot streaks this season. For four games, from Jan. 2 through Jan. 16, Allen led the team in scoring and averaged 18 points per game. The next four games, Barlow did the same, averaging 18.8 per game. The last two games, it has been Gaines, who has averaged 17.5 in those contests.

Gaines has averaged 14 points per game while scoring in double figures in each of the last four contests. Before that stretch, she reached double figures only three times this season. She’s on a roll, and she kept it going by getting close to the basket and making the easy shot. After Wednesday’s game, Gaines is shooting 45.2 percent from field goal range. It’s tough to do that when you’re taking jump shots.

Want ultimate proof that getting the ball inside wins games? Marquette made nine of its 13 3-point attempts tonight. The Irish took three 3-pointers tonight and made one of them. They didn’t need treys. They needed, and got, the ball in the paint. Even if their guard had to do it for them.

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

Contact Bill Brink at [email protected]