ND Women’s Basketball
Huffman seizes the moment, pushes Notre Dame to title game
Greg Hadley | Monday, April 6, 2015
TAMPA, Fla. — Her defensive stat line is hardly overwhelming: 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals, 1.03 defensive rebounds per game. She has never started a game for Notre Dame, and she saw the court for just five minutes Sunday night.
But when it came down to it, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw called Hannah Huffman’s name for the most important defensive possession of Notre Dame’s season. The junior guard answered that call with a game-clinching stop to send her team past South Carolina and into the NCAA title game.
With 13.9 seconds remaining, the Gamecocks, down 66-65, called a timeout to draw up their final play. In Notre Dame’s huddle, McGraw tasked Huffman with sticking to South Carolina’s top player, junior guard Tiffany Mitchell, an All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year.
“When I looked down the bench, Michaela Mabrey [is] not as well known for her defense,” McGraw said. “So we wanted to get a better defender in, and Hannah Huffman is somebody that played earlier in the game, guarded Mitchell, did a great job on her, and so we wanted to give her that opportunity.”
Huffman had no hesitation in taking on the challenge.
“That defensive possession was a big possession, but at the same time, we’ve been doing that in practice and doing that in games, so it’s about doing what you know,” Huffman said.
Throughout the postseason, Huffman has played in all but one game, gaining McGraw’s trust and making an impact that did not always show up on the stat sheets.
“Hannah Huffman, starting with the ACC season, has really come along and done a lot of great things for us defensively,” McGraw said. “Her job is not to score but to bring energy, rebounds, set screens and take charges and play defense. … And Hannah I think, the biggest play of the game, to put her in, I think I told her ‘I trust you and I have confidence in you.’”
Her teammates also knew Huffman was capable of shutting Mitchell down because she had been doing things like that all season on the practice court. Early in the year, Huffman would consistently square off against fellow junior guard Jewell Loyd in scrimmages and drills, challenging her all over the court.
“She’s annoying, that’s what she is,” Loyd joked when asked about Huffman’s defense. “She’s a great defender. She’s always in my stuff, hitting my arm, pulling my jersey, in my face all the time. She’s made me better this season.
“She was ready for that Tiffany Mitchell matchup. She was like, ‘Ok, I’ve been doing this all season.’ So we help each other out.”
On the inbounds pass, Mitchell caught the ball on the defense’s left side, turned around and was immediately pressured by Huffman. She tried cutting to the right, but Huffman fought through a screen. She backtracked left, but Huffman once again skirted a screen to stay in front of her mark. Finally, she went right again and, trapped by Huffman and Loyd, tried to pass the ball, only to be denied by Huffman.
“It was about to go out of bounds, and Hannah knew [not to] stop the clock, so she tipped it back in, and we just smothered it,” Loyd said. “So it was a good defensive effort by us.”
As the clock ran out and the Irish secured a return to the title game, Huffman said she could barely remember the celebration that followed.
“It was madness,” she said. “I remember Michaela [Mabrey] running at me, and I dodge Michaela, just running around, just so much fun to celebrate with your team to squeak out a win in the Final Four. … Just joy and happiness and excitement.”
For a player who does not regularly sees the floor, it was a rare moment to step into the limelight and deliver defensively.
“That’s been my role all season, and to fulfill my role in a moment like that, it’s pretty special and really a blessing,” Huffman said.