ND Women’s Basketball
Insider: Season a success regardless of end
Daniel O'Boyle | Friday, March 18, 2016
Four conference tournament championships, going back to 2013. Five conference regular season championships, going back to 2012. Five consecutive Final Fours, going back to 2011. Yet no national title since 2001.
Every year, as the tournament approaches, the same question is asked: What makes this Irish team different to all the others? Why is this team the one that will bring Notre Dame back to the very top?
This Irish team is definitely different to the team that lost to Connecticut last year. But does it look any more likely to overcome the final hurdle? Probably not.
Anyone looking for ways this team sets itself apart from last year has plenty of starting points. Brianna Turner continues to get better as the season goes on; Lindsay Allen has taken another step up in running the floor; there are seven players who could lead the team in scoring on any night; players have stepped up into bigger roles with confidence; and even more than ever, this looks like a team that fights for absolutely everything.
But Turner’s improvement is because she’s recovering from a shoulder injury, one that could have ended her season and one that kept her back from being even more dominant. Allen has been fantastic, but a preseason injury to her backup, freshman Ali Patberg, has left the junior as the only real viable option at point guard and ended any hopes of trying Allen in some new looks. The way Notre Dame has replaced the points provided by Jewell Loyd has been nothing short of exceptional, but there is no team that wouldn’t feel some sort of loss without a player of Loyd’s caliber. The Irish didn’t miss a beat when Taya Reimer left the team early on in the season, but it couldn’t have been anything other than a challenge.
The team has drive, but it takes more than drive to win a championship. It takes talent, and the Irish right now just don’t look more talented than they were a year ago. When Irish head coach Muffet McGraw described her 2015-16 squad as “probably not the most talented team we’ve had in the past five years,” it certainly wasn’t meant as a slight against them, but when you consider all that this team has been through, it’s impressive the Irish have already achieved so much between the regular season and the ACC tournament.
Think back to nearly four months ago and over 1,100 miles away from South Bend, when the Irish faced UCLA in the Bahamas. Brianna Turner had just injured her shoulder and faced the possibility of surgery that would rule her out for the remainder of the season. Without their star player, the Irish fought through an overtime contest with the Bruins, as Madison Cable guided Notre Dame to victory.
Things could have gone another way. One bad bounce and maybe the Irish lose. Next up would be a strong Ohio State team, which the Irish beat, 75-72, and the Connecticut team that was the only team to beat Notre Dame this season. DePaul and Oregon State would present further challenges to the Irish before they even faced their first ACC opponent, with Reimer announcing she would leave the team shortly after the Irish faced the Blue Demons.
It’s easy to imagine a version of this year in which the Irish entering conference play without Turner and with four losses, including a defeat against UConn that was more comprehensive than the 91-81 game they played in reality.
Irish hopes of a second national title could have been put to a halt by an injury on Thanksgiving in the Caribbean. Instead, McGraw’s team enters the tournament as the third overall seed. This Notre Dame team might not be the best equipped Irish squad to go all the way, but it’s not out of the question.
If Notre Dame ends yet another great season without winning it all, you could reflect on this year as another disappointment. But with the hurdles the Irish have overcome, the 2015-16 season should be a success no matter what.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.