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ND Women’s Basketball

Greason: With flaws exposed against UNC, ND will be stronger long-term

| Tuesday, January 29, 2019

College basketball is a game of wins and losses. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the wins are good. In fact, if you’re going to succeed, the wins are necessary.

And the losses are bad.

Don’t worry. That’s not my hot take.

That comes a little later. Because although the losses are bad, they’re also a necessary evil. They force even the best teams to confront adversity along their roads to the top and they (most of the time) make a team better in the long run.

OK, now. Let’s put this conversation about losses into a little bit of context.

Notre Dame suffered its first loss of the season in December in what was then a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup against Connecticut, in their annual regular-season meeting and first face off since Notre Dame (19-2, 6-1 ACC) came out ahead in the national semifinal game in March.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish junior guard Jackie Young dribbles the ball upcourt during Notre Dame’s 89-71 loss to UConn on Dec. 2 at Purcell Pavilion.

The one-loss Irish team was still one of the most threatening forces in the sport. Especially when that one loss was to one of the most formidable sports dynasties in any sport, ever.

But the Irish picked up their second loss of the season Sunday when they dropped a shocker to unranked North Carolina in the game’s closing seconds. Now, that changes things a little bit. The Irish even dropped from their solid No. 1 ranking to No. 5 in Monday’s AP poll, while the Tar Heels (12-9, 3-4), expectedly, still didn’t crack the Top-25.

There are, of course, good losses and bad losses. Sunday’s loss to UNC was a bad loss. A really bad one.

But that does not mean there are not lessons to take from it. In fact, I’d never deign to say I have even a small fraction of the basketball knowledge that Irish head coach Muffet McGraw possesses, but in my humble opinion, there are probably many more lessons to take from a bad loss than from a good one.

This one not only proves to the Irish that they are fallible, something that the loss to the Huskies (18-1, 7-0 AAC) never could have shown them — as a loss to a top-ranked team like UConn is something that can typically be left in the past pretty quickly — but it also brings Notre Dame’s biggest flaws and weaknesses to the forefront.

It may have shown that the squad relies too heavily on junior guard Jackie Young, who, coming off her first-career triple-double, rolled her ankle on the final play of practice Saturday and was forced to miss Saturday’s game, yielding her starting position to freshman Abby Prohaska. And at this stage, Prohaska should never be asked to be Jackie Young. She only played eight minutes and was unable to score, although she bagged three rebounds and turned one assist. But she simply does not have the experience to be Jackie Young, who with her triple-double, finds herself in the company of few Irish greats, including Skylar Diggins and Lindsay Allen.

It certainly showed that Notre Dame’s mid-game deficiencies are still present, as it seems the Irish consistently have the weakest portions of their games in the second and third quarters, before finally putting opponents to bed in the game’s final frame. Against North Carolina, the Irish led by a hair at the half, but were outscored by 11 in the third quarter, essentially putting the game out of reach, although they were able to bring the game back to a tie in the fourth and lost the game in its final seconds.

The loss to UNC exposed Notre Dame’s struggles to rebound offensively. Although the squad out-rebounded the Tar Heels by four, the Irish were only successful in grabbing five offensive boards, something that should be an asset when you have two of the top players in the paint in the country in 6-foot-4 forward Jessica Shepard and 6-foot-3 forward Brianna Turner.

And then, there’s the play from the bench. No Irish player has scored more than nine points coming off the bench since ACC play began in December. With one of the country’s top recruiting classes year after year, one might think that against some of the conference’s weaker teams, players who have gotten some starting playing time might be able to come off the bench and put up some numbers. But the bench has struggled to have any sort of offensive production this season. It’s all come down to the core five players in Shepard, Turner, Young and senior guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale. That’s all well and good when everyone is healthy. But lose a cog in the well-oiled machine, and everything might not run so smoothly, as we saw Sunday.

But let’s not forget it’s only January. It’s supposed to be minus 12 degrees this week with a wind chill of 47 below zero. When Notre Dame won the national championship in 2018, it was a balmy 48 degrees in Columbus, Ohio. I guess what I’m trying to say is we’ve got a long way to go before the Irish hope to hop on their jet to Tampa, Florida, for this season’s Final Four. They’re got plenty of time to work on fixing these blemishes, so maybe it could be worse that they were exposed sooner rather than later.

So sure, a loss to a North Carolina gives the UConn internet trolls on The Boneyard plenty of fodder to work with — and trust me, they are — but, the Irish have better things to do than pay any attention to the haters. That will get you blocked on Twitter. Just ask Breanna Stewart.

Notre Dame may not be the perfect team at the moment, but it’s not being asked to be the perfect team right now. Obviously every player and coach on the Irish roster wants to win every game, make every basket or grab every rebound. But a loss right now isn’t the end to Notre Dame’s season. In fact, if history has anything to say about it, I’ll even go so far as to say that Notre Dame’s 78-73 loss to North Carolina on Sunday was just the beginning.

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

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

Contact Elizabeth