No dunk, but new dynamic for Notre Dame women

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Everything unfolded like it had to.

Lindsay Allen got the ball on an outlet pass. She and Brianna Turner had left the St. Joseph’s defenders in their dust. Good pass. Turner had a few steps to wind up … But …


“I thought about a layup the whole time,” Turner said with the smile.

Oh well, the first dunk in Notre Dame women’s basketball history is still coming.

Give it time. It’s gonna happen.

Sunday had its purpose for the 6-foot-3 (if the clump of hair atop her head is counted, it’s 6-7) freshman. Turner established herself as healthy and an inside force to be respected and reckoned with after a 64-50 victory over the Hawks.

With 19 points, five blocked shots, four rebounds and a steal in 30 minutes, Turner pretty much proved she was recovered from a dislocated right shoulder (Dec. 3) and ready to provide another dimension on both ends of the floor. She was 7-of-8 from the floor, though most of her shots were just a few feet from the bucket, and hit 5-of-6 free throws.

Beyond Turner’s own statistics, the influence she has on the opposition is hard to quantify. St. Joe’s three inside players combined to shoot 0-for-8. While occasionally wandering to the perimeter on defense, Turner’s long arms would even give long-range shooters something to think about.

“They’re long, they’re lanky; they have a lot of wingspan, especially with (Turner and Taya Reimer),” said St. Joe’s coach Cindy Griffin. “They were able to get some tips and deflections and disrupt what we were doing a little bit.”

“(Having Turner back) definitely changes the game for us,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “We’ve really missed that the last few games. She did a great job around the basket; being in the right spots on the pick-and-roll. We were able to look for her. We probably missed her a few times. We could have gone to her more.”

For a first time back in the lineup, logging 30 minutes on the court is quite a test.

“We want to play her as much as we can right now to make sure everything’s good (with her shoulder),'' McGraw said. “We want to make sure that (Monday), she still feels good. It’s been great having her in practice this week and getting back in her rhythm.”

Rhythm was a challenge Turner made sure she didn’t try to force. She didn’t just step back in and try to dominate.

“My concern was to be good defensively right away and let the offense come along,” Turner said.

Once she got into the flow, her skill as a shot-blocker took over.

“(Blocking a shot takes) having good body control and not going for the ball (until the shooter) releases it,” Turner said. “There are players with better body control at this level (compared to high school).”

“The blocked shots are really deflating (for the opposition),” said McGraw.

Having that sort of weapon is a dynamic the Irish haven’t had since Devereaux Peters (2007-12) with her long arms but balky knees. If Turner can stay healthy and continue to make progress, it will complicate the game plans against the Irish.

“(Missing the last three games) was more of a learning experience for me,” Turner said. “Watching from the bench was a different perspective. I could see I have to go faster on my cuts; I need to be in this spot.

“This is the first time (for an injury). I wanted to be out there, but I just had to get myself healthy.”

This early in her career, everything can be a learning opportunity.

Now, about that dunk …

Notre Dame freshman forward Brianna Turner plays defense against St. Joseph's Sarah Fairbanks during the ND women's basketball game Sunday December 21, 2014 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. Notre Dame beat St. Joseph 64-50. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)