ND Women’s Basketball
Brianna Turner shines on both ends of the floor for Notre Dame
Mary Green | Thursday, January 21, 2016
It seems like five blocks listed next to Brianna Turner’s name in postgame box scores has become more common than not this season for the sophomore forward — she’s posted that number of rejections four times so far and twice in the last three games.
But when it comes time for the No. 3 Irish to practice, in sessions that can sometimes be harder than their own games, is Turner getting her hand on the ball that much?
“I am not. No, I’m probably averaging about one per practice,” she admitted with a laugh, before hitting the court for Wednesday’s practice in pursuit of that lone block.
However, Turner also credited those teammates who keep her average in check during practice with her defensive development from her freshman to sophomore seasons.
“We have such great players,” she said. “I mean, I’m never blocking their shots in practice, but in the game, I’m able to move my body while I’m blocking players’ shots, so I think just in practice, having really great teammates.”
The Irish have felt Turner’s impact on defense this season, most especially in her absence. During the six games she missed due to a shoulder injury, Notre Dame allowed 76.8 points on average. In the 12 games she has played, that number drops down to just 56.2.
The same holds true for opponent field goal percentage. Without Turner, opponents shot 45.8 percent. With her, just 35.8 percent.
Then again, that percentage comes from players who actually shoot when Turner’s patrolling the paint.
“I think there’s people who don’t even attempt to shoot it when she’s there,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think she gives that presence to our guards, so that if they get beat, they don’t have to worry as much, when they know she’s behind them. And I think she’s really been active, going to look for blocked shots, where I think in the past, she waited until the ball came her way, but now she’s really going out and trying to get them.”
While her 6-foot-3 frame certainly helps Turner on the defensive end, McGraw said it might not even be her best skill when she’s trying to get a hand on the ball.
“She has great timing,” McGraw said. “I think she’s a really quick jumper. [Against Tennessee on Monday] she went down on the break and missed a layup, and I think before it came off the rim, she was already back up to try to get it in again. Timing with her blocking shots. She really has great speed, quickness and agility. I think she can really move well.”
McGraw said one of the next steps in Turner’s development this season on defense has been extending her zone out of the paint to the perimeter, where she has to adapt her playing style to guarding more agile ball handlers.
“Definitely I would have to say stay lower because the guards are just so quick, and I really have to be quick with my feet because in the post, I mean, you can kind of play more straight up and push more, but on the wing, you really have to keep your hands off and be really fundamental,” Turner said.
Her 130 career blocked shots, totaled in less than two complete seasons, have already put her in the top 10 in that category in program history, and it’s the player who sits at the top of that list, former Irish great Ruth Riley, who has been helping Turner in her development of “every single aspect” of the game along the way.
“She’s been here, done this. It’s just great to learn from Ruth,” Turner said. “She’s just such a great person to be around on and off the court, so I just love learning from her.”
McGraw compared Turner’s impact on defense to what Riley and former forward Devereaux Peters did for the Irish in their time at Notre Dame, but added Turner’s play on defense can still take her by surprise.
“It does,” she said. “ … Some of them, she comes out of nowhere, and she still gets it and gets the break going, and I think the transition game has been obviously much better since she’s been back.”