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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish suffer another big loss at home to No. 5 Louisville

| Friday, January 31, 2020

Notre Dame has suffered some hefty defeats versus ranked opponents at home this season, a trend that unfortunately continued for the Irish (7-14, 2-7 ACC) in an 86-54 loss to No. 5 Louisville (21-1, 10-0 ACC) on Thursday night. A decent crowd was on hand in Purcell Pavilion, but standout Cardinals junior guard Dana Evans and the ACC-leading Cardinals quickly quieted Irish fans with a 9-0 run to begin an ugly first quarter for the Irish. 

After the first points came via Louisville senior forward Kylee Shook, Evans hit a jumper before converting three free throws after being fouled on a corner three as part of 9-0 run that forced Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw to use her first timeout just over two minutes in. It was an excellent homecoming for Evans, as the junior from Gary, Indiana led all scorers in the first quarter with 11 and finished with a team-high 17 points. Evans attributed the Cardinals’ quick start to their respect for the Irish, difficult as Notre Dame’s struggles may have been this season.  

“We knew we had to be aggressive and take it at ‘em because they were kinda short with their bench,” she said. “But, we know that they’re a great program … so we had to stay focused and go use the game plan that we had.” 

Isabel Patacsil | The Observer
Irish freshman guard Anaya Peoples shoots a contested runner during Notre Dame’s 72-69 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 14.

The Irish would respond with a little run of their own, and after sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert drove and hit a runner to make it 14-8, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz was forced to call a timeout of his own. 

“We were turning the ball over too much,” Walz said. “We were scoring .… The problem is I think we had like four turnovers in our first 10 possessions of the game. And you, you just can’t do that. We had six turnovers in the first quarter. And we were up 16, I thought it could have been 20, but unfortunately, we got really sloppy there. So I just told them, you gotta stay focused, take care of the basketball, get each other shots. And I thought after that we did a really nice job.” 

The glimmer of hope proved short-lived for the Irish. Louisville subsequently went on an 8-0 run featuring triples from both Evans and sophomore guard Elizabeth Balogun. The run was eventually broken by a stepback three from Irish graduate student guard Destinee Walker, but when Irish junior center Mikalya Vaughn tipped a seemingly routine rebound to Balogun, who finished inside and drew the foul, it was a microcosm of a disastrous first quarter for Notre Dame. The Irish were outrebounded 13-4 in the first 10 minutes and found themselves down 27-11 entering the second. A frustrated McGraw was sarcastic when asked about what Notre Dame could have done better to stop the bleeding. 

“Yeah, I think petitioning the NCAA for more timeouts is what I need,” McGraw joked. “I used two in the first quarter …  we just, we need more timeouts. I thought all the ones that I accrued over the years could, you know, be used now but that’s our biggest problem because we cannot score.” 

Leading contender for ACC freshman of the year Sam Brunelle would briefly reinvigorate Purcell Pavilion with seven quick points after the teams traded buckets at the start of the second quarter. Brunelle, who led all freshmen in the power-five conferences with 13.5 points per game entering the contest and finished with 17 against the Cardinals, hit a deep three off an offensive rebound and assist from Vaughn, before grabbing a quick two inside and then grabbing an offensive board of her own on the next possession and hitting a foul-line jumper, which cut the Cardinals’ lead to 33-23. 

That would be the closest the Irish would get, however. Louisville would close the half on a 27-6 run, shooting a blistering 65% from the floor en route to a 50-29 halftime lead. The impressive offensive display was noted by Walz, who was especially pleased with his squad’s ball movement. 

“Well, our goal was to try to go inside out, and, you know, push the ball in transition and try to attack,” he said. “I mean, we have been playing pretty well the past month. [They’re] a pretty balanced group. It’s not just on one player. And I thought we did a really nice job. 25 assists on 34 made field goals shows that you are passing the ball.” 

McGraw, meanwhile, rued the Irish’s glaring missed opportunities on the offensive end. 

“You take a timeout and say, ‘You know, let’s try this or that’ and … we get a great shot from it … [but] how many layups did we miss?” she asked. “We get great shots and we can’t put the ball in the basket. So it deflates you when the other team is scoring, and now I know what this feels like for our opponents for the last five years.”

Things did not improve for Notre Dame on either side of the ball at the start of the second half. After a quick two from Brunelle, the Irish had a couple of disastrous possessions. Evans punctuated a 7-0 run with an and-1 to make it 57-31, and Louisville did not look back. The Cardinals stretched the lead to 32 as they forced cheap turnovers and held the Irish to a dismal 28.6% from the floor. The lone bright spot of the quarter for Notre Dame was Gilbert, who put up 10 points in the quarter and ended up leading all scorers with 18 points.  

The final quarter was relatively even and disjointed as the Cardinals emptied their bench and McGraw subbed more as well. The Cardinals’ largest lead was 35, but Irish junior guard Nicole Benz, who averaged 1.3 minutes per game entering the game, earned a roar from those left in Purcell with a trey from well beyond the men’s line in the final minute. Notre Dame appeared to maintain their energy levels until the end, but McGraw admitted she was happier with the effort from some more than others. 

“Some certain people I thought really worked a little bit harder today,” she said. “And I think you see that in your defense, in your rebounding. So when you look and you say … we gave up 86 points … I don’t think everybody worked quite at the level that I was hoping, but generally, I thought, you know, we’re getting a little bit more out of people. But, you know, we need to make some shots.”

The Irish return to action this Sunday when they travel to take on Georgia Tech. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. 

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