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ND Women’s Basketball

Offensive woes doom Irish in title game

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With 27 seconds left in the first half of the national championship game, Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd ducked behind a screen from a teammate at the top of the key and drained a long 3-pointer to pull No. 2 Notre Dame within five points of top-seeded Connecticut, the closest the Irish had been to the Huskies in 14 minutes.

It was the last field goal Loyd would make until there were less than four minutes left in the game. By that time, the Irish (37-1, 16-0 ACC) were down 71-49 and it was too late for a comeback.

In between these two points, the Notre Dame offense, ranked second in the nation in points per game and field goal percentage, was held to 11 points on 26-percent shooting by Connecticut (40-0, 18-0 AAC), who rank first in the country in defense, allowing just 47.6 points per game.

Part of Notre Dame’s struggles came from its lack of an interior game, where the Huskies outscored the Irish, 52-22, and out-rebounded them, 54-31. Irish senior forward Ariel Braker said most of the problems inside came back to the team’s struggle to box out.

“I don’t think their size [made a difference],” Braker said. “We’ve played against people bigger than them or as big as them this entire season. We just didn’t get it done on the boards. When you come in at halftime and you find out that they have 45 points, but 32 of them came in the paint, that’s an issue. That’s something we should have handled in the second half but we didn’t.”

Without senior forward Natalie Achonwa, the Irish relied on their perimeter shooters, including Loyd, senior guard Kayla McBride and sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey. In the first half, they were able to stay close to the Huskies in large part because of their five-for-eight 3-point shooting.

The Irish still shot just 43 percent from the field in the first period, below their season average of 51 percent. Things went from bad to worse in the second half, as the Irish endured a five-minute scoreless stretch and put up over half of their points in the period in the final four minutes, when the game was already out of reach. McBride said that it was the Irish that held themselves in check, not Connecticut’s defense.

“We were kind of beating ourselves,” she said. “We weren’t in rhythm in the offense, we weren’t making the extra pass, we weren’t playing the normal way we’ve been playing the past 37 games. I think that’s what made it look so bad.”

As the Irish fell behind, McBride and Loyd tried to exploit their one-on-one matchups and took more difficult shots. In the second half alone, the pair attempted 15 field goals, but made just three.

“Their defense was very good,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “And a little bit, I think, was just the bad start [and] then we’re pressing. We were trying so hard, and we went one-on-one [although] our game has been team and assists and working the ball together. And I thought we tried to go a little bit too much off the dribble.”

Loyd ended the game shooting 27 percent from the field, well below her season average of 52.5 percent. McBride also struggled from the field and turned the ball over four times compared to two assists, after owning a 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio in the rest of the season. Connecticut finished the game with six blocks, below their season average of 8.2 per game.

“I think we just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so big, I need to alter my shot,’” Loyd said. “Well, not necessarily. We just needed to take our shots. We were trying to do too much and maybe forced it a little too much. They weren’t really denying us or pressuring us like they usually do, it was just us not being aware in situations. … Being down, we’re not used to it.”

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

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