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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish hit the road, suffer third loss of the season

| Friday, February 8, 2019

When you’re a consistent title contender, losing doesn’t come often. And losing twice in just over a week of regular-season play is unprecedented. Yet, defending national champions Notre Dame finds itself at a crossroads after falling 72-65 to No. 25 Miami on the road on Thursday, less than two weeks after it suffered a stunning loss to unranked North Carolina.

For a team whose trademark is throttling opponents in the second half, the No. 4 Irish (21-3, 8-2 ACC) had no answer for the Hurricanes (20-5, 8-2) down the stretch. Unable to close the gap, Miami hit five-straight free throws in the final minute to seal the seven-point victory for the Hurricanes.

From the opening tip-off, each team went immediately to their respective strategies, with the Hurricanes feeding senior forward Emese Hof for a jumper on the opening possession, followed by a 3-pointer from Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey on the other end of the court. Mabrey and Hof exchanged layups to continue to set the tone. Although Notre Dame worked to get more players involved, with junior guard Jackie Young knocking down two free throws, Mabrey continued to lead with a jumper to bring the Irish within one at 10-9. With less than five minutes remaining in the quarter, however, all five starters managed to get on the board, in addition to sophomore reserve center Mikayla Vaughn. With two minutes left, both offenses seems to come to a standstill, as neither team could connect, with the Hurricanes missing three-straight shots from behind the arc. However, with time expiring, Mabrey recorded her 10th point of the night on a transition 3-pointer off a steal by freshman guard Abby Prohaska to tie the game up at 22.

Annie Smierciak
Irish senior forward Jessica Shepard keeps the ball inbounds beneath the basket in Notre Dame’s matchup against UConn earlier this season.

McGraw said this early pressure by the Hurricanes was expected, and that nothing about their approach was surprising to her team.

The second quarter saw both offenses cool down, as neither team managed to score throughout the first two minutes and 15 seconds of play until Miami sophomore guard Mykea Grey gave her team a three-point lead when she scored and Young fouled her. Another minute of stall in the offense was broken by Hof, who knocked down two jumpers. Not to be outdone by the 6-foot-3 senior, the Irish mounted a respectable response with Young, senior forward Jessica Shepard and senior guard Arike Ogunbowale all adding two points each to the Irish scoreboard. The last three minutes of play saw the teams exchange buckets, and the Hurricane’s returned to the locker room holding on to a two-point lead.

“Generally tried to outscore them, and today our offense was just off,” McGraw said on the performance. “Credit Miami’s defense, I thought they played really well. They had a really good plan against the zone and then made big shots. They made really big shots. I thought Hof was a big key … we have a really good inside game, but tonight they were better.”

Playing from behind for most of the third quarter, the Irish struggled to find their groove. After a hot start, Mabrey failed to score again until the fourth quarter, and the weaknesses for McGraw’s team only compounded. However, buckets from Young and Ogunbowale, followed by a Shepard free throw, sparked a comeback as the Irish took a one-point lead. The back-and-forth continued throughout the third quarter, with Miami unable to distance themselves from the lingering Irish; the Hurricanes entered the final quarter up two points.

After 30 minutes of back-and-forth, Miami finally got the distance it had been hoping for all night, taking a six-point lead until the 6:43 mark, when Mabrey rejoined the scorers with a layup to keep Notre Dame in the game. On the ensuing play, Young blocked a Miami shot attempt and later knocked down back-to-back free throws to cut the led to two. With the clock winding down, Hof extended the Miami lead to five with just over three minutes left, forcing the Irish to turn to fouling to keep the game close. The Hurricanes stepped up to the challenge, going 7-for-8 from the stripe, while the Irish struggled from long range, missing three-straight 3s in the final seconds before the final buzzer rang.

McGraw said this loss came down to poor defensive efforts and missed opportunities at the free throw line.

“We lost the game because we couldn’t contain the ball, they beat us to the basket, we fouled them; we just could not contain the ball, man or zone,” McGraw said. “We could not contain the ball and it cost us the game, the same as it did against North Carolina. We’ve struggled defensively for as long as these guys have been in the program, and we’ve got to find a way to figure out what we can do on defense … We lost our poise. And how many free throws did we miss when really needed to — but just again with the stops. We make a big shot, we’d get down and give up a layup. You can’t win playing like that.”

Going forward, the challenges do not get any easier, as the Irish will look to bounce back against Florida State at home this Sunday at noon. Hoping to avoid their fourth loss of the season, McGraw and her team know that they will have to execute better against the No. 24 Seminoles.

“We’re not getting the stops that we need to get and it’s shooting us in the foot every game,” Young said.

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