ND Women’s Basketball
Turner makes block with game on line to shift momentum, break all-time record
Elizabeth Greason | Saturday, April 6, 2019
TAMPA, Fla. — It seems that Notre Dame’s starting five doesn’t have many records left to break. But another one bit the dust Friday evening as graduate student forward Brianna Turner took down the record of one of the most prolific figures in Irish basketball lore, while simultaneously recording one of the most significant, momentum-swinging blocks that’s been seen in a long time.
With 58 seconds to play in the game, the Irish (35-3, 14-2 ACC) found themselves with a shaky three-point lead after senior guard Arike Ogunbowale knocked down two free throws from the line. The one-possession lead appeared as if it could be traded back and forth, as if the winner would come down to who had the ball last, especially as Notre Dame struggled on the defensive side of the ball throughout the game, trading possessions with Connecticut (35-3, 16-0 AAC) for the better part of 59 minutes.
But Turner changed that.
Huskies sophomore forward Megan Walker took control of the ball at the top of the arc and screened it out to freshman guard Christyn Williams. Williams looked for a teammate and, not finding one, paused as if to shoot a 3, before thinking better of it as Ogunbowale got in her face, and drove through the lane toward the basket. When she reached the block, she shoveled the ball out from behind Turner to senior forward Napheesa Collier, who was in perfect position to shoot.
But she was denied.
Her shot started to go up, but was immediately swatted back at her by an arm attached to the 6-foot-3 body of Turner, who boxed out Collier and gained control of the ball before immediately pivoting and passed it to her awaiting teammate: senior guard Marina Mabrey. With 25 seconds on the clock, Mabrey avoided being fouled, dribbled back to the backcourt and dished the ball to Ogunbowale, who was quickly fouled by Huskies junior guard Crystal Dangerfield. As if it was the first quarter of a game in November, Ogunbowale made both free throws and the momentum turned in Notre Dame’s favor; the game became nearly out of reach for Connecticut, who, with just tens of seconds on the clock, now faced a five-point deficit.
“They had a player driving to the basket and I knew [Napheesa] was behind me, so I was just kind of dodging and faking and so when she made the pass, I wanted to meet [Napheesa] up high and not take a chance with the refs calling a foul,” Turner said, describing the play. “It was just making sure my hands were up and contesting it.”
With that block, Turner surpassed the long-standing career blocks record at Notre Dame, which had been held by 2001 national champion Ruth Riley. Riley’s record stood at 370 blocks, but Turner’s block with 40 seconds remaining pushed her over the edge with 371.
“That was really exciting,” Turner said. “I’ve been chasing the blocks record all season and I didn’t know if I was going to get it or not, so it was really exciting.”
Turner recorded five blocks in the matchup against the Huskies.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said it was Turner’s efforts that allowed Notre Dame to keep pace with Connecticut throughout the first half, as her squad struggled with its defense in the first two frames.
“I thought Brianna Turner was absolutely outstanding on defense. She now has the blocked shot record at Notre Dame, beating Ruth Riley. So proud of her,” McGraw said. “She really single-handedly kept us in the game the first half. She had so many key blocked shots.”
Turner finished the game with a double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds, and, of course, her five blocked shots. She proved herself the most efficient player on the floor for either team and shot over 44% in the Irish’s 81-76 win over the Huskies.
So while the team as a whole may have struggled defensively for much of the game — McGraw said they appeared “out of sorts,” —Turner stood strong in the paint, providing an element of calm to her coach.
“I think Brianna gives us just a totally different look. What she can do defensively, she can switch out and guard the point guard, she can certainly guard the post,” McGraw said. “She’s a shot-blocking presence inside.”
When Turner was asked what allowed the Irish to come back from a deficit in the fourth quarter and ultimately defeat their rivals to advance to the national championship once again, she responded with a smile: “The luck of the Irish.”
But it might also be worth considering that her very own skills played a large role in the victory.