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ND Women’s Basketball

Squad bounces back to beat Toledo 54-51

| Thursday, November 21, 2019

Looking to come back after dropping two consecutive contests at home, the Notre Dame took on the Toledo Rockets on Wednesday night.

The Irish (3-2) rallied in the fourth quarter to win 54-51 despite trailing for more than 30 minutes. The Irish were led by a big performance from freshman forward Sam Brunelle, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. It was Brunelle’s first career double-double.

Head coach Muffet McGraw thinks more will come.

“One of many,” McGraw said. “[Her] rebounding was what was key, that’s how we won the game.”

Graduate student guard Destinee Walker and sophomore Katlyn Gilbert also finished with double digits for Notre Dame, scoring 12 and 11 points, respectively. McGraw said she is happy with Gilbert’s overall performance Wednesday.

“I thought Kaitlyn Gilbert did so many great things. Defensively, she came up with some big steals, some big plays, some big rebounds, and made some big shots. I was really pleased,” McGraw said.

Gilbert credited her teammates for her continued improvement this year.

“My teammates, they put that confidence in me every day, on and off the court. I owe it all to them for our performance this year,” she said.

McGraw said she believes the team’s success came from an increase in conversation.

“Overall, I thought our communication was better, we got up and guarded people better. We kept our poise for a team this young, especially on the defensive end,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame forced 21 turnovers and held Toledo (1-2) to just 34% shooting.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert shoots over a defender in a loss against Michigan State on November 15.

The Irish jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead but soon began struggling to score. They didn’t score a point for almost four minutes, allowing Toledo to take an 11-6 lead, but after a Notre Dame timeout, Walker immediately hit a mid-range jumper to break the drought. Walker followed with another long two to cut the deficit to just one, but Toledo answered immediately with a 3-pointer. After splitting a pair of free throws, Toledo drilled a long, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take an eight-point lead into the second quarter.

McGraw said Toledo’s skill shone through the situations they placed the Irish in.

“They looked like a veteran team, they forced us into some really bad mistakes,” she said.

The second quarter opened with a basket in the post by freshman Anaya Peoples, but Notre Dame couldn’t find a rhythm on offense after that. The Rockets’ tenacious defense gave ball handlers little room to shoot, and the Irish had trouble finding the bottom of the net at times. Five consecutive points from Brunelle and a hook shot from sophomore Danielle Cosgrove cut Toledo’s lead to four, but Toledo answered with five quick points. The Rockets led 33-26 at the half. 

Notre Dame started the second half with two fast break baskets, as Gilbert went coast-to-coast after grabbing a rebound. On the next possession, senior Marta Sniezek was fouled and made both free throws. A long jumper by Brunelle followed, cutting the lead to one once again and bringing the crowd back into the game. 

The rest of the quarter was back and forth as neither team put together a long scoring run. The Irish cut the lead to one point on multiple occasions, but the Rockets answered with a timely basket each time. They led 44-41 at the end of three quarters. A Gilbert free throw was the only point scored in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter for Notre Dame, but a tough layup by Walker brought them back to within two points. Brunelle then split a pair of free throws, the defense forced a shot clock violation, and a Gilbert floater gave the Irish their first lead since 6-5 in the first. A Walker reverse layup on the next set put Notre Dame up three and forced Toledo to take a timeout. 

An and-one from Toledo brought the lead back down to two with just under three minutes to play. After another made free throw from Brunelle, a steal by Sneziak led to a step-back jumper from Walker to put Notre Dame up five points for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Toledo stayed in it, thanks in part to three Notre Dame turnovers in the last 90 seconds. They had a chance to tie the game with 15 seconds left but stingy defense forced a turnover, and Notre Dame was able to hold on. 

Brunelle spoke on what she believes the team needs to do to improve.

“Moving forward, we still have so much work to do. The sky’s the limit. We can be as good as we want to be,” she said.

Gilbert said she believes the Irish need to continue working to become a stronger team.

“We have a lot of work to do, and we know that and we expect more from ourselves, so we’re going to use this confidence to build up to the team we need to be,” she said.

The Irish will travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to take on 21st ranked Michigan. Michigan (4-0) will be a difficult opponent.

“Playing on the road is going to be tough for us,” McGraw said of the matchup. “They’re a ranked team, [Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico] is a great coach, so it’s going to be a huge game for us.”

The Irish tip-off against the Wolverines at 1 p.m. Saturday. 

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