ND Women’s Basketball
Irish can’t finish late, lose to Gophers
Colin Capece | Thursday, December 5, 2019
Despite a fourth quarter surge to overcome an 18-point second half deficit, Notre Dame (5-5) fell short at home again Wednesday, losing 75-67 to Minnesota (7-1). Lackluster perimeter defense and a poor first quarter on offense put the Irish behind early and ultimately sent them to a third defeat out of their last four contests.
“We need to be smarter on defense. We just cannot remember who we’re supposed to guard,” head coach Muffet McGraw said in her postgame press conference. “We just don’t have any pride in our defense right now. Really disappointed in just the overall lack of awareness of where the shooters were. We just couldn’t seem to find number 34 [redshirt junior guard Gadiva Hubbard] in the zone.”
Leaving Hubbard with too much space to shoot was certainly an issue for the Irish throughout the game. The guard led the Golden Gophers in scoring with 20 points and torched the Irish from the three-point line, making six shots from beyond the arc. As a team, the Golden Gophers knocked down 12 threes. McGraw made it clear that the poor defensive showing resulted from a combination of mistakes and miscommunications.
“There’s a myriad of reasons,” McGraw said. “There were times when we were defending two players and our guard didn’t come over to help. They’re all responsible. That’s stuff that we work on in practice every day and we haven’t mastered yet.”
The game developed in three stages, with the Golden Gophers starting the first quarter on a 13-6 run. Minnesota’s defense used its size and length advantage to stifle the Irish, not allowing Notre Dame to score during the final 2:30 of the first quarter. The Irish struggled to get to the rim and couldn’t find open looks, taking only 11 shots in the quarter. Notre Dame also turned the ball over 11 times in the opening 10 minutes.
The second quarter saw more of the same defensive dominance from the Golden Gophers. The visitors continued to use their length to block shots and passing lanes, making it extremely difficult for Notre Dame to run its offense. The Irish had a 7:01 scoring drought between the end of the first and the start of the second quarter. Minnesota consistently forced the Irish to take difficult, highly contested shots with the shot clock winding down. The first half ended with Minnesota leading 33-21.
McGraw wasn’t pleased with her team’s offensive struggles and credited the Golden Gophers defense.
“I mean we couldn’t make a shot. We missed layups, we missed open jumpers and I thought their defense was really good,” McGraw said. “They played really physical with us and we just caved. We didn’t stay strong, we let them push us around and we just wouldn’t attack. We were trying to shoot over shot blockers instead of trying to take her off the dribble and getting to the free throw line.”
In the second half however, the Irish slowly began to find their offensive rhythm. Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert, who notched 15 points and seven rebounds in the contest, drilled Notre Dame’s first three of the game two minutes into the third quarter, and freshman forward Sam Brunelle who finished with 19 points and six rebounds, made a number of tough jump shots and layups to cut into the deficit. Graduate student guard Destinee Walker recorded eight of her 12 points of the night in the third quarter.
With the Irish trailing by nine at the start of the fourth quarter, Brunelle made a layup with a foul to bring the Purcell Pavilion crowd back into the game. The freshman gave the Irish their first lead of the night with another layup with 5:33 left in the game. Minnesota head coach Lindsay Whalen then called a timeout to stop Notre Dame’s momentum. Out of the timeout, Minnesota’s senior forward Taiye Bello answered to give the Gophers the lead again, followed by a layup by freshman guard Anaya People to put the Irish back in front 59-58. However, the Irish failed to score for the next 2:47, as the Golden Gophers closed out the game with a 17-8 run. Brunelle expressed frustration postgame after another difficult loss for the Irish.
“It’s been the same thing every game. We were right there tonight, up one, the timeout was called and we came out flat and were down 10 just like that,” Brunelle said. “It’s just about us beating ourselves. It’s been a continuous thing coming out flat like that, but that’s no excuse for us. We’ve been in every single game and have had the opportunity to win those games.”
McGraw was also frustrated with her team’s defensive execution late in the game, as the Gophers scored on nine straight possessions after Peoples’ clutch bucket.
“They came up and found people to make shots, but I don’t have an answer for it,” McGraw said. “I don’t know why we just completely stopped playing defense after we took the lead.”
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the Irish, as they will face No. 4 UConn (6-0) on the road Sunday in a rematch of this past April’s national semi-final. Brunelle briefly looked ahead to the game.
“We know they’re going to be prepared for us,” Brunelle said. “It’s up to us whether or not we want to be in that game, and I sure as hell hope we come out and win and play like we should be able to play.”
The Irish will take on the Huskies on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. in Storrs, Connecticut on ESPN.