ND Women’s Basketball
Irish can’t close out DePaul, lose third straight for first time since 2007
Colin Capece | Thursday, December 12, 2019
Despite major contributions from their freshman phenoms, Notre Dame again couldn’t close out the visiting team on Wednesday night, this time falling to No. 16 DePaul 105-94. Notre Dame (5-7) shot an efficient 57.4% from the field, but 27 turnovers and an impressive 3-point shooting performance (16-29, 55.2%) from the Blue Demons (8-1) ultimately sent the Irish to their third-straight defeat.
“Yeah, a lead is never safe when you play against a team like DePaul. The way they shoot the [3-pointer] you have to focus, and we really struggled to find the 3-point shooters,” head coach Muffet McGraw said after the game. “We knew they were going to shoot a lot of them, and we just had a lot of breakdowns, but I thought it was the turnovers that really killed us and gave them a lot of easy baskets.”
Despite the Irish scoring a season-high 94 points, DePaul’s press defense made it difficult for the Irish down the stretch. Defending the Irish for 94 feet ultimately proved to be the difference in the game for the Blue Demons, as many of Notre Dame’s turnovers came off of inbounds after DePaul baskets. McGraw made it clear that her team knew how to deal with the press, but simply didn’t execute properly.
“We worked on that, and all they really had to do was go to the ball instead of running away from it. We made it a lot harder than it needed to be. And when they were double teamed, they didn’t cut hard to try to get open and really help each other,” McGraw said.
The Irish failed to capitalize on yet another pair of strong performances by freshman guard Anaya Peoples and freshman forward Sam Brunelle. Peoples has certainly displayed her potential over the last two games. She recorded her second-straight double-double Wednesday, posting 22 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes. Brunelle continues to improve with each game and scored a career-high 31 points against the Blue Demons. She had her full offensive arsenal on display, dominating in the low post while also stretching the floor with her mid-range and 3-point shooting. Peoples said she was glad to have her teammate back on the floor after Brunelle went down during Sunday’s game against UConn early with a knee injury.
“It was great having her back in the court with us. We need that kind of performance from her all the time. We just have to keep giving her the ball when she’s hot,” Peoples said.
After a sluggish start against UConn, the Irish again looked flat out of the gate on Wednesday, turning the ball over on back-to-back possessions to start the game. DePaul jumped out to an early 5-0 advantage after a pair of buckets by junior guard Dee Bekelja. Notre Dame quickly discovered its shooting touch however, as graduate student guard Martina Sniezek split a pair of defenders and found graduate student guard Destinee Walker open in the corner from behind the arc. The Irish continued to find great looks by pushing the pace and out running the visitors down on the fast break. Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert and Brunelle both knocked down transition 3-pointers in the quarter. Walker and Gilbert were both able to easily get to the basket off the dribble and forced a number of contested layups. The Irish led 30-24 after the first quarter was all said and done.
Notre Dame continued to stretch its lead, starting the second quarter on an 8-3 run. Brunelle continued to establish a strong position on the low block, allowing her to shoot turnaround jumpers over the smaller DePaul defenders. Notre Dame’s guards also did an effective job of moving without the ball, and scored a number of easy buckets off of back door cuts to the rim. But midway through the second quarter, DePaul began to press the Irish in the backcourt hoping to slow down the pace. This made it difficult for Notre Dame to inbound the ball and forced the Irish to commit five turnovers in the final five minutes of the quarter, one of which a rarely seen 10-second violation, as the Blue Demons press started to get to the Irish offense. DePaul was able to claw its way back into the game, and the half closed with Irish leading by just two.
The third quarter was back and forth from the beginning, with the teams trading buckets for the first nine possessions. The Irish looked ready to pull away from the Blue Demons when a Walker lay up put Notre Dame up five, but senior forward Chante Stonewall responded with a deep shot on DePaul’s next possession. Stonewall then scored the next six DePaul points, and a jumper by sophomore guard Lexi Held gave the Blue Demons a four-point lead. DePaul led 81-76 after three quarters.
However, Notre Dame would score five-straight points to open the fourth quarter, knotting the game at 81. The teams continued to trade baskets until just 5:05 remained. Held then drained a clutch 3-pointer to begin an 8-0 DePaul run that closed out the Irish for good. DePaul finished off Notre Dame with a pair of stops on defense, forcing the Irish into two tough shots as the shot clock expired. Turnovers by Gilbert and then Walker ultimately sent the Irish to their second consecutive loss at home.
“We stuck with them for the majority of the game, but it’s been the same things over and over again down the stretch. We just need to find a way to get over the hump,” Brunelle said.
DePaul’s win snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Irish. This is also the first time Notre Dame has lost three consecutive games since 2007, an incredible 11-year run of consistent winning that came to an end Wednesday night. Replacing five starters that accounted for 10,230 career points was never going to be easy for McGraw, and her young team will have to continue to develop throughout the season. Peoples explained that as an inexperienced team, the Irish will have learn from these difficult losses.
“Games like this are going to help us fight in every game that we play going forward,” Peoples said. “We see that we can stick with ranked teams, so we just have to come back to this game and remember how to close it out.”
The Irish have two more games in December and will look to build some momentum before they begin fa ull slate of conference play at the start of the new calendar year. Notre Dame takes on the University of Guelph next Saturday at 1 p.m., followed by Clemson on December 29 at 4 p.m. Both games will be played at Purcell Pavilion.