SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame gained a couple more reinforcements, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the force that was No. 24 Michigan.
With preseason Big Ten player of the year pick Naz Hillmon scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots, and fellow forward Hailey Brown adding 18 points, six boards and four blocks, the Wolverines pulled away in the fourth quarter of a mostly tight game for a 76-66 women’s basketball victory over the Irish on Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Sam Brunelle and Katlyn Gilbert both made their season debuts for Notre Dame after being out for undisclosed reasons in the opening two games, each coming off the bench and flashing some of the skills that made them Atlantic Coast Conference all-freshman picks last season. But both spit out some rust as well.
Gilbert scored six points and matched freshman Maddy Westbeld for team-high rebounding honors with seven, but finished 1-of-7 from the field and 2-of-6 at the line over 29 minutes to go with a blocked shot.
Brunelle scored six points on 2-of-6 shooting outside the arc before fouling out in just 18 minutes. She never attempted a shot inside the arc, but did block one of Michigan’s.
“She’s gotta get her wind back and cardio, and all that good stuff, but she’s such a great shooter,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “She’s such a threat on the 3-point line, so we wanted to go to her early.”
Ivey said it’s going to take time for Brunelle and Gilbert to reach 100%, adding that neither player has been full-go in practice yet.
“I thought Kate did a really good job in the first half,” Ivey said. “She came in and gave us a really big spark defensively with her length. She got to the rim, got to the line a couple times. I was happy with what she did as well.”
The Irish (1-2) trailed from the 7:16 mark of the second quarter onward. After being down by as many as eight in that period, though, they got as close as 54-53 and 56-55 during the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines (3-0) responded with a 7-0 run to establish control.
“That’s when we started to fall apart a little bit,” ND sophomore guard Anaya Peoples said of the UM spurt. “We just gotta keep sticking together, look for each other. We play best when we’re looking for each other, not trying to do one-on-one.”
Peoples scored 13 points for the Irish and made two steals. Westbeld led the hosts with 18 points, giving her 37 in her last two games, and nabbed two steals in 23 minutes, but again saw her action limited a bit by foul trouble.
Notre Dame tried to counter Michigan’s potent offense that had averaged 94 points over the Wolverines’ first two games with a 2-3 zone, but the versatile visitors still finished 19-of-37 on 2-pointers and 7-of-19 on triples to go with 17-of-19 at the line.
“First half, I thought it was really good,” Peoples said of the zone. “We were closing out on shooters, we were fronting the post and we looked really good in it. The second half, we started getting tired, (committed) fouls, and that’s when they started to pick us apart a little bit, but overall, I think our 2-3’s looking good. We just gotta fight through the fatigue and trust each other.”
After trailing 36-34 at the half, the Irish closed to within one point on three three occasions in the third period to go with the two times in the fourth, but never could draw even.
“I didn’t feel like we could get the stops that we wanted to get out and run in transition,” Ivey said. “I wasn’t too happy with our effort defensively in the second half, but I know we have a young team and a couple additions that haven’t practiced a lot yet, so I know it’s going to take some time, but we really gotta focus on getting better defensively.”
Doing so will behoove the offensive style that the coach wants.
“I don’t want to be a half-court team,” Ivey said. “I want to be able to kind of mix it up and get out and run. … This is a team I’m really trying to teach to want to run and play with pace and space. I thought we got it a little bit in the first half, but it’s something I want more.”
If Notre Dame can gain more healthy personnel in the form of sidelined post players Mikki Vaughn and Nat Marshall, that will further the team’s cause, but Ivey indicated Thursday that each remains out indefinitely while recovering from knee surgery.
“Hopefully, it’ll be in the next couple weeks,” Ivey said of Vaughn’s return, adding that Marshall may be further away than that.
Without those players, the Irish have just Brunelle, Westbeld and freshman Amirah Abdur-Rahim listed as forwards. Abdur-Rahim had two points and two boards Thursday. Guards Dara Mabrey and Destinee Walker finished with 12 and nine points, respectively.
The Irish hit just 19-of-46 on 2-pointers and 10-of-18 at the line, but added 6-of-16 from distance.
Leigha Brown from DeKalb, Ind., tallied 14 points for the Wolverines and Akienreh Johnson 12. Amy Dilk, Indiana’s 2018 Miss Basketball out of Carmel, dished a game-high seven assists against one turnover to go with six points.
Michigan beat the Irish for the first time in its last nine visits to Purcell. The Wolverines’ only other win here was a 66-60 overtime decision in December 1979 during their inaugural trip.
Notre Dame hosts IUPUI at 2 p.m. Sunday in the third of five straight scheduled home games. That contest is also the final one slated for the Irish ahead of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule that features a record 20 games this season.
MICHIGAN (3-0): Hailey Brown 7-11 1-1 18, Hillmon 4-10 12-13 20, Leigha Brown 5-13 4-5 14, Dilk 3-7 0-0 6, Johnson 5-9 0-0 12, Nolan 2-3 0-0 6, Rauch 0-2 0-0 0, Sidor 0-1 0-0 0, Stuck 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-56 17-19 76
NOTRE DAME (1-2): Westbeld 7-15 3-5 18, Mabrey 5-12 0-0 12, Peoples 6-11 1-3 13, Prohaska 1-2 0-0 2, Walker 2-7 4-4 9, Brunelle 2-6 0-0 6, Gilbert 1-6 2-6 4, Abdur-Rahim 1-3 0-0 2, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-62 10-18 66
Michigan;12;24;18;22 — 76
Notre Dame;15;19;17;15 — 66
3-Point Goals_Michigan 7-19 (Brown 3-6, Brown 0-2, Dilk 0-2, Johnson 2-4, Nolan 2-3, Rauch 0-1, Sidor 0-1), Notre Dame 6-16 (Westbeld 1-1, Mabrey 2-6, Prohaska 0-1, Walker 1-2, Brunelle 2-6). Assists_Michigan 17 (Dilk 7), Notre Dame 17 (Mabrey 4). Fouled Out_Notre Dame Brunelle. Rebounds_Michigan 34 (Hillmon 4-11), Notre Dame 38 (Team 5-8). Total Fouls_Michigan 21, Notre Dame 19. Technical Fouls_None. A_122.