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ND Women’s Basketball

Padanilam: Irish performance far from complete

| Monday, March 21, 2016

For most teams, a 95-61 win in the first round of NCAA tournament is a great start in the pursuit of a national championship.

Not for No.1 seed Notre Dame.

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said as much in her postgame press conference following Notre Dame’s win over North Carolina A&T: “I thought we played a great three quarters.”

And that fourth quarter?

“I thought it was really careless,” McGraw said. “Sloppy and careless.”

Irish senior guard Hannah Huffman gathers for a shot during Notre Dame's 95-61 victory over North Carolina A&T in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish senior guard Hannah Huffman gathers for a shot during Notre Dame’s 95-61 victory over North Carolina A&T in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Sloppy and careless for the Irish (32-1, 16-0 ACC) consists of 15 second-half turnovers — compared to just six in the first half — and 15 second-half fouls.

And although McGraw said she was happy with her team’s first half performance, it wasn’t exactly perfect, either.

Sure, the offense was impressive, as it moved the ball effectively on its way to 20 assists in the first half. And yes, the defense forced the Aggies (19-12, 12-4 MEAC), a 31 percent 3-point shooting team entering the game, to settle for 23 3s and avoid feeding the ball inside.

But the Aggies were able to grab 12 offensive rebounds and take a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points in the first 20 minutes of action. Considering the Irish were outshooting the Aggies 66 percent to 24 percent in the first half, their 52-24 lead could — and should — have been much larger.

Not many teams will complain about a 28-point halftime lead.

But not many teams are No. 1 seeded Notre Dame.

The Irish were expected to come away from this game with a big victory. The 34-point margin wasn’t nearly as impressive as the 21 turnovers committed and 16 offensive rebounds allowed were alarming.

As Lindsay Allen said just last week, the key for the Irish over the next few weeks was to “just keep peaking during the tournament” so they would be “peaking during the Final Four.”

And in many ways, the Irish did just that on Saturday. But in others, it appeared as though the Irish took a huge step backwards.

North Carolina A&T, as a tournament team, was not to be taken lightly. But it certainly wasn’t a part of college basketball’s elite, either. Yet, they gave Notre Dame trouble on the defensive glass and forced a bevy of turnovers once they turned on the full court press. Sure, Notre Dame was never in danger of losing this one, but that only minimizes some of these rather significant weak spots in their performance.

Because, when they do eventually square off with Maryland, South Carolina or Connecticut in this tournament, these are weakness that these teams can expose.

Maryland is the nation’s top team in rebounding margin. South Carolina isn’t too far behind. And Connecticut is, well, Connecticut.

They all have dangerous offenses which capitalize on the second-chance opportunities they are given should you be so lucky that they miss the first time around. And they all play better defense than North Carolina A&T.

In other words, the Irish won’t be able to afford the same mistakes they made in this performance because they won’t be able to cover them up with their offense.

The Irish have one of the deepest and most dangerous squads in the country. They are one of the nation’s elite teams. But, if they want to beat these other elite teams — including teams like the Gamecocks and Huskies, who many consider to be better than the Irish — they have to play a great game, not a great three quarters.

They have the talent and coaching staff to render them capable of making these adjustments and fixing these mistakes. If they do, even the Huskies should be very afraid of the threat they pose.

But if they don’t, the Irish will fall short of their goal yet again, and their season will feel incomplete. It will feel like their performance in today’s game felt: “a great three quarters.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin