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ND Women’s Basketball: How Sweet it is

Bill Brink | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Charel Allen said before the NCAA Tournament started that the team goal was to reach the Sweet 16. Tuesday night, she saw to it herself that they got there.

Allen scored 35 points during No. 5-seed Notre Dame’s 79-75 overtime win over No. 4-seed Oklahoma in the second round of the Tournament.

The Irish, who donned their green uniforms against the Sooners, advanced to the Sweet 16, where they face No. 1 seed Tennessee Sunday. The Volunteers beat Notre Dame 87-63 on Jan. 5 at the Joyce Center.

“The whole team absolutely refused to go home without a victory,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Even when we got down five in the overtime we just kept battling back.”

Allen was 10-for-21 from the field, 3-for-3 from 3-point range and 12-for-12 from the free throw line. Still, she said the Tournament meant more.

“It wasn’t bad,” she said of her night. “We got to the Sweet 16. The ‘W’ is all that counts for me.”

Sooners center Courtney Paris had 24 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks, and guard Jenna Plumley hit 6-of-10 3-point attempts en route to 18 points. Forward Amanda Thompson had 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Irish guard Ashley Barlow had 16 points, and guard Tulyah Gaines had seven assists on the night.

Allen almost destroyed the night she had so beautifully crafted. After Irish guard Lindsay Schrader rebounded Barlow’s missed 3-point attempt, Gaines and Allen played keep-away until, with 44 seconds left, Allen lost control of the ball. It bounced out of bounds and gave Oklahoma possession.

The Sooners took immediate advantage of the miscue. A tight Notre Dame defense kept them from getting a good outside look, but they found Courtney Paris in the paint for an easy bank shot to tie the score at 65 with 9.9 seconds left, forcing overtime.

Plumley hit her sixth 3-pointer of the game and forward Amanda Thompson hit a jumper to put Notre Dame down five to start overtime. But Allen hit a 3-pointer and helped force a steal, which Barlow converted into a layup, to tie the score at 70 with three minutes left.

“Basketball is a game of runs, they had a 5-0 run,” Allen said. “We had to come out and match that, and we did. We won.”

With under a minute left in overtime and the shot clock expiring, Gaines raced after a loose ball and threw it towards the rim to avoid a shot clock violation. Robinson fouled her on the play, and Gaines hit one of two free throws.

“I was thinking, the shot clocks about to go out, so throw it up,” Gaines said. “Thank God they called the foul.”

With 38 seconds left, Barlow stole a pass near mid-court. Forward Nyeshia Stevenson fouled her to prevent the easy basket, but Barlow made both shots. Thompson’s 3-point attempt missed, but she got another chance and sank it. Schrader threw the inbounds pass to Barlow across mid-court, where Barlow was fouled and made both free throws to seal the game.

“We handled their run when they went up five,” Barlow said. “They’re a good team. We just handled their run, got out and made our free throws at the end of the game.”

The Irish hit 57 percent of their shots in the first half, but only 30 percent in the second. It was their free-throw shooting, however, that won them the game. They made 22-of-24 free throws, or 91.7 percent.

“I give credit to Notre Dame, they were terrific from the free throw line,” Sooners coach Sherri Coale said.

When Oklahoma had a 56-49 lead with 7:26 remaining, Allen had enough. She made straight four foul shots during a three-minute span when she scored 10 points.

After a steal in the offensive end, center Erica Williamson hit two free throws. Allen helped force a steal in the full-court press and made an awkward baseline and hit two more foul shots to make the score 61-58 with 3:57 remaining.

The press, along with the Notre Dame fan contingent, increased its energy and hassled the Sooner offense more than previously. The Irish had struggled to find quality shots in the second half, but by getting the double bonus they battled back from the foul line.

Notre Dame led by as many as nine in the first half, but the Sooners fought to keep close and finished the first half down four.

Notre Dame 75, SMU 62

With Erica Williamson in foul trouble, freshman forward Becca Bruszewski scored a career-high 16 points off the bench during No. 5-seed Notre Dame’s win over No. 12-seed Southern Methodist in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I thought Becca Bruszewski was phenomenal off the bench,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “You don’t expect a freshman to show up in the NCAA Tournament and get a career-high, and that’s just what she did today.”

Ashley Barlow had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Charel Allen had 14 points.

The Irish jumped out to a 25-8 lead in the first half, but the Mustangs pulled to within four by halftime.

In the second half, Southern Methodist tied the game at 57 when Allen a fade-away jump shot to give the Irish the lead. They went on a 12-0 run full of layups and free throws and never allowed the Mustangs back in the game.

Notre Dame out rebounded Southern Methodist 49-26 and had 24 offensive rebounds.