ND Women’s Basketball
Greason: Irish are competitors despite depth problems
Elizabeth Greason | Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Notre Dame almost did the unthinkable Sunday. It almost beat UConn. At UConn. Without three scholarship players with torn ACLs.
The Irish (7-1) racked up as much as a 12-point lead and the No. 1 team in the nation looked as if its undefeated season was going to come to a shockingly early end. In general, if UConn (7-0) is going to lose to anyone, Notre Dame is not a bad bet as to who can take down the Huskies. But it has not been successful in doing so since 2013, and the stars did not appear to be aligned for that to change in this season’s regular-season matchup between the two teams.
The Irish are missing three players — All-American senior forward Brianna Turner, senior guard Mychal Johnson and freshman center Mikayla Vaughn — leaving them with just eight scholarship players. So, the fact that the Irish were able to not only go toe-to-toe with the Huskies, but leave them in the dusk for a significant portion of the game is incredibly impressive.
But, if I had to attribute to loss to one thing, I would also say it’s those injuries. Not directly. Notre Dame proved it has the ability to win without its best player in Turner on Sunday, even though it ultimately did not. It is the fact that the Irish simply ran out of steam at the end of the game. The Irish were outscored 26-9 in the fourth quarter and only scored a single point in the final four minutes and 18 seconds, as the Huskies out-rebounded them 14 to five in the game’s final stanza.
Simply put, Notre Dme ran out of steam. Against the squad with the best depth in the country, a team with only three scholarship players on the bench could not keep up.
But the Irish should return home from their seven-game road game feeling good. There should be an element of triumph there for Muffet McGraw’s squad, in spite of the loss. This is a team that, on paper, should not have touched UConn at this point in the year. And yet, it came pretty close for 30 minutes.
Not everything can be attributed to depth. In fact, McGraw said adrenaline alone was enough to keep her team going in a game this important. But I don’t think the importance of UConn’s bench versus Notre Dame’s lack thereof can be overlooked. Of course, there were some plain and simple execution errors and lapses at the end of the game. But the bottom line is that depth is clearly going to be an issue for the Irish going forward. They’re going to get tired over the course of the season; it’s just a fact of life.
But that’s an issue to focus on later on — there’s nothing the team can do about that at the moment. Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld played 30 minutes against the Huskies, by far the most she had played yet this season as she continues to nurse her injured ankle back from surgery. She’ll certainly help the Notre Dame depth when she’s back in full health, and until then, the team will just have to work with what it’s got and hope it’s enough. And when it isn’t, it will have to learn from its losses, as it undoubtedly will from Sunday’s.
However, based on Notre Dame’s strong overall performance at UConn, I do not expect there to be too many more losses, no matter what the depth situation is. The Irish looked fantastic for much of the game and they certainly will not be playing teams the caliber of the Huskies too frequently. If this road trip taught Notre Dame anything, it should be that no matter what obstacles it is facing this season, it is a true competitor.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.