ND Women’s Basketball
No. 2 Irish pummel Jayhawks, finish Challenge unbeaten
Greg Hadley | Monday, December 1, 2014
No. 2 Notre Dame finished off the easiest portion of its schedule with flair Sunday afternoon, racing by Kansas, 89-47, in Uncasville, Connecticut, to finish the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge undefeated.
With the win over the Jayhawks (5-2), the Irish (7-0) completed the first half of their non-conference schedule, including victories over six unranked squads. Notre Dame has won every contest by an average of almost 47 points, but Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she is far from satisfied with the team’s early performance.
“Every area, honestly,” McGraw said when asked where the Irish could improve. “[Against Kansas] we shot the ball really well, so that hides some problems, but I think we can execute better. I think we can rebound better. I think we can defend better. I think we can do everything better.”Against Kansas, the Irish shot 55.4 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from 3-point territory, but their four-rebound advantage was well below their season average of 17.7.
“Our rebounding was disappointing,” McGraw said. “We wanted to out-rebound them by a bigger margin and we didn’t do that. When you shoot the ball well, you’re not going to get a lot of offensive rebounds, but I thought we should have done a better job defensively on the boards.”
Kansas shot 38.2 percent from the field and collected more offensive rebounds, 10-8, than Notre Dame, the second time an Irish opponent has done that all season.
The Irish also faced their biggest deficit of the season, down 5-0, 74 seconds after the opening tip. However, bolstered by a long 3-pointer from junior guard Michaela Mabrey and a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Lindsay Allen, Notre Dame tied the game up in less than a minute and never trailed again.
On offense, the Irish were led once again by junior guard Jewell Loyd, who took 4:15 to record her first points, but then put up 23 in just 23 minutes on the court. On the season, she is averaging just under a point per minute, playing 22.6 minutes per game and scoring 20.3 points.
The Jayhawks managed to keep the game within reach for most of the first half, relying on senior guard Natalie Knight and senior forward Chelsea Gardner to generate 62 percent of their offense in the period.
“Chelsea Gardner is a tremendous player,” McGraw said. “[She’s] really, really hard to guard. We pressed; we had the whole team on her at times; we tried to run people at her, and she still managed to shoot 50 percent. … I think we did a decent job on her at times, but overall, she really played well.”
Irish freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld was part of the rotation tasked with matching up with Gardner and responded with seven rebounds and six points, as well as her finest defensive performance of the year, McGraw said.
“I was so pleased with her,” McGraw said. “She came off the bench and did a great job. She was very active defensively. She rebounded well. She had a key offensive rebound that I thought helped change the game in the first half. She really battled for it, kicked it out to Michaela Mabrey for the 3, and I thought that was a turning point in the game.”
The 3-pointer was part of a 15-0 run for the Irish to end the first stanza with a 21-point lead. During that stretch, the Jayhawks did not score for nearly six-and-a-half minutes.
Mabrey was key to the offensive outburst, scoring 11 or her 17 points in the first half. Notre Dame’s most prolific and successful 3-point shooter attempted seven shots from long range on the day, connecting on five of them. She added a pair of free throws but did not attempt a single field goal all game.
In the second half, Mabrey, Loyd and the rest of Notre Dame’s starters came out for good with over 10 minutes remaining in the contest, making way for the rest of the 12 players on the Irish roster to all play and score, the fourth straight game they have done so. Ten Irish players also grabbed a rebound.
“This is the most depth I think we’ve ever had,” McGraw said. “We played [nine] people in the first half, we’ve been playing nine or ten all year. We have different people who can come in in different situations and really help us. Our young players are playing really well. … We’re able to work on some things when we sub, which is good because we haven’t been able to get a lot of practice in.”
That depth will be put to test over the next week as the Irish face three ranked teams in seven days, starting Wednesday against No. 15 Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.