ND Women’s Basketball
Hadley: Notre Dame, Stanford and Connecticut: the transitive property
Greg Hadley | Saturday, March 28, 2015
The transitive property is pretty simple: If A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A must be greater than C.
Unfortunately for No. 1 seed Notre Dame, things are not always that easy.
When the Irish beat Stanford, 81-60, to advance to the Elite Eight on Friday night, they topped the only team to best top-seeded Connecticut in the past two years. If basketball was as simple as the transitive property, that would be all you needed to know. There would be no doubt the Irish could top the Huskies and finally capture that elusive second NCAA title.
But the state of affairs is much more complex than such a simple comparison as that. The Stanford team Notre Dame thrashed Friday night was a shell of the one that upset Connecticut all the way back on Nov. 17.
Sophomore guard Lili Thompson scored a game-high 24 points against the Huskies but was hampered by injury Friday night and put up just two. Freshman forward Kaylee Johnson, who led the team in rebounds against UConn, did not play a minute against the Irish. The Cardinal shot just 35.4 percent from the field.
All of this is not to take away from the impressive work Irish head coach Muffet McGraw and her squad did against Stanford. They advanced to their fifth straight Elite Eight in style, dominating on the backs of star performances from sophomore guard Lindsay Allen and junior guard Jewell Loyd.
But if the Irish can continue to advance and eventually meet Connecticut in the title game, as many think they will, they cannot be simply good enough to beat the Stanford team they faced in the Sweet 16. They have to be better than Stanford was the night it halted Connecticut’s 47-game win streak.
If Notre Dame can recreate the conditions of that fateful game, common sense would suggest they would have similar success against the Huskies. So let’s go back to Nov. 18 to see what Stanford did to Connecticut then and how it compares to what Notre Dame accomplished Friday night.
First of all, the Cardinal allowed Connecticut’s star player, junior forward Breanna Stewart, to score 23 points and collect 10 rebounds but limited its other starters quite effectively. Senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a finalist for many player of the year awards, only had 12 points and six rebounds, and the rest of the lineup was just as hamstrung.
Notre Dame did not have to deal with the same amount of offensive pressure due to Thompson’s absence, but the Irish still showed a similar strategy of allowing certain players to take their shots in favor of shutting down the rest of the offense. Only three Cardinal players — senior guard Amber Orrange, senior forward Bonnie Samuelson and sophomore Erica McCall — scored more than 10 points. The rest of the team shot a combined 19.4 percent from the field.
Secondly, Stanford held the rebounding edge against Connecticut, 41-37. The battle for the boards is a constant emphasis of McGraw’s, and it is a legitimate concern. The Irish are certainly not diminutive, but they are smaller than most other top-ranked squads. If they cannot at least break even on rebounds, the situation becomes grim. In its loss to Connecticut on Dec. 6, the total rebounds favored the Huskies, 52-34.
Against the Cardinal, however, Notre Dame fought hard and emerged in a dead heat on the boards — 39-39. What was key to this result was not just the play of the Irish frontcourt but the entire team. The Irish guards collected 21 of those rebounds. Against Connecticut, that number was just 11. As the Stanford game proved, Notre Dame does not need to dominate its opponents on the boards. Its guards are plenty good enough to give the Irish an edge. They just need to break even.
Lastly, Stanford beat Connecticut by stymying its NCAA-best 3-point shooting while also hitting 50 percent of its own shots from beyond the arc against one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
Notre Dame is one of the top teams in the country from long distance and kept that facet of the game going against the Cardinal, shooting 44.4 percent. What is crucial is how well the Irish defend. They held Stanford to 33.3 percent from 3-point territory but might have to be even better against Connecticut and Mosqueda-Lewis, who leads the country in 3-point percentage.
The transitive property might not hold for basketball, but the Irish can still draw confidence from beating the last team to top Connecticut. Despite travel delays and a late start time, Notre Dame looked efficient and business-like Friday night. The Elite Eight was never the end goal for this team, so there was no exuberance after the win. It was just more experience in case the Irish have their chance for revenge.