Notre Dame Basketball: Connecticut Women Top Irish for No. 10


Irish fall short again as UConn wins No. 10

Another year, another heartbreak. The fact that this wasn’t necessarily the most talented or experienced team won’t make it any easier. The Notre Dame women continue to get within the grasp of  a title, but just can’t seize it. It will eventually take breaking the stranglehold on women’s basketball that is the University of Connecticut.

When I highlighted the keys for victory, I knew it would take a near perfect game for the Irish (36-3) to pull the upset. Sadly, they accomplished many of the ones I noted–and still came up 10 points short. So is Connecticut just that much better than everyone else? 

After their lone loss, the Huskies (38-1) dominated everyone. I mean, just dominated. But the Irish were able to come out in the first half, execute their offense and keep pace. Michaela Mabrey hit an early three, Taya Reimer hit some early mid-range shots. And they went at the glass, actually outrebounding the Huskies 45-34.

But there are a few key stats you can point to for why the Irish fell short. First and foremost was turnovers. Both teams committed their fair share, as it appeared nerves were very present early on. But Notre Dame turned it over 17 times, five more than UConn. Speaking in the most positive hypothetical sense, if they turn those into points? That’s 10. Several were on fast breaks and back door cuts that were “sure” baskets. Those hurt more than anything.

When UConn’s Breanna Stewart started garnering all the National Player of the Year awards, I was slightly irritated. I felt Jewell Loyd had earned more consideration. But to be honest–even though the award winner is chosen well before the tournament starts–her performances showed me she isn’t quite there. She’s amazing, just not quite there.

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Brianna Turner finished as the leading scorer for the Irish, and didn’t start making shots till the second half. She did a fine job on Stewart, keeping her in check. The rolled ankle likely didn’t help Stewart, but Turner’s defense was key.

But they couldn’t get Turner involved on the offensive side early, and it hurt the Irish. With no inside presence, Mabrey and Madison Cable couldn’t find open opportunities around the perimeter. The two went hand-in-hand, and having their outside game negated hurt their chances of answering Connecticut scoring runs.

But in my opinion–and coach Muffet McGraw has alluded to it all year–this team lacks the fire and tenacity of past years. Former standout Kayla McBride and Skylar Diggins showed more emotion in the stands. Natalie Achonwa could only rally them so much from her seat on the sidelines. McGraw got into them all she could.

It’s not to say that they didn’t care. With seven of 12 players underclassmen, many were likely in awe of the moment. It showed with Kathryn Westbeld, who had been fantastic all year. She just wasn’t the same player. Turner eventually got through it, but no question the stage and lights were a bit bright to start.

With Cable the only player the Irish are losing that plays notable minutes (Markisha Wright, Whitney Holloway are the other two graduating), the Irish will return the entire starting lineup. And with reinforcements on the way, these girls will be back.

It’s a sad moment to realize that this class and the previous came so close, but couldn’t get over the hump. But how many teams out there would trade their seasons for five straight Final Four appearances and a four-time runner-up?

Everyone but Connecticut.

Next: Five Keys for the Irish