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Sports

ND suffers first loss of season to Tennessee

| Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Notre Dame women’s basketball squad (2-1) got served their first loss of the season against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (3-0).

The Lady Vols simply outclassed the Irish on the boards. At the half, the Lady Vols had tallied 32 rebounds, nine of which were offensive. By comparison, the Irish had just 12 boards, four offensive. The Lady Volunteers wwere getting plenty of second-chance points, and at the half, the Irish found themselves trailing 28-36. 

Down but not out in the second half, the Irish would show a spurt of life on several occasions. Lady Vols junior forward Rennia Davis was a force to be reckoned with, though, as she put up 33 points on the night, shooting 5-9 from behind the arc. The height advantage of the Lady Vols was also far too much to overcome. At the end of the night, the Irish had totaled 28 rebounds, to the Lady Vols’ 55.

After holding the lead in the opening minutes, the Irish would not regain it again all game. Down big on the scoreboard heading into the second half, the Irish needed a big second wind. Down the stretch, the Irish ultimately failed to come back — although they came close on a few occasions. When their defense pieced together some solid stops, they were still failing to put points on the board, with Tennessee’s lanky defense just too much to handle.

Junya Kanematsu

Irish graduate student guard Destinee Walker puts up a shot during Notre Dame’s 84-60 win over Loyola Maryland on Nov. 8. Walker led the Irish with 18 points during Monday night’s 74-63 home loss to Tennessee.

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw spoke to these defensive stretches where the offense failed to put any points on the board. 

“I thought we made a really good run in there,” McGraw said. “We weren’t making enough shots, but defensively, we did some really good things. We kept forgetting we were trapping, so that was a little frustrating. But yeah, we got some stops we made some big plays, and we just got to figure out how to convert it.”

McGraw expressed her disappointment, noting how poorly her young squad performed on the biggest stage they have had this season. The lack of height on the Irish squad was also apparent during the loss as Irish freshman forward Sam Brunelle, the tallest Irish starter standing at 6’2”, has been forced to start as a center while junior forward Mikayla Vaughn is sidelined with a knee injury.

“We have our center popping for three, and so we don’t have anybody on the offensive block, so we need to rebound better, and our guards did a poor job,” McGraw said. “The whole team did a poor job. They were obviously way bigger and they did a terrific job on the boards — we needed to do a better job of getting a body on and blocking out, and just really working a little harder on the boards.” 

Notre Dame would ultimately lose 63-74. Though the Irish would narrow the margin on several occasions, the Lady Vols’ biggest lead of the night was 18, with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Even as the Irish were able to cut the lead to just 11, they failed to do much on the offensive side of the ball. McGraw said that in the long run, this game will end up helping the young team to succeed later down the road.

“I was really happy that we only turned the ball over 12 times, even though some of them were really, really bad turnovers. That led to a lot of easy baskets for them. I thought overall that was one thing that I thought we did a pretty good job of,” McGraw said. “[Rennia] Davis just was way too much for us to handle today. She’s a terrific player, and we let her get going early and just couldn’t seem to find her in the zone, which is something that we need to work on. Offensively, I thought we got a lot of good shots, our game plan was really not to drive it in and get it blocked, but we did get it blocked quite a bit.”

McGraw said the team will take this loss in stride.

“I thought we learned a lot, we’re moving forward,” she said. “We are a work in progress, and we know what we have to work on. We knew coming in what we had to work on. It’s going to be like this all year long, so we’ve got an incredibly tough schedule with Michigan State coming in next, so it’s not going to get any easier for this team, and they’re just so young. Just really, we just need experience, and we’re getting it every game. But we’re going to take our lumps early.” 

The early-season loss is not something the Notre Dame is used to, as last season the Irish did not falter until November against the No. 2-ranked UConn Huskies.

Next up, the Irish will take on No. 16 Michigan State on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

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