UPDATE: Notre Dame women's basketball: Board work fuels Irish

South Bend Tribunw

SOUTH BEND -- In Monday night’s showdown between two Top 25 college women’s basketball teams, Notre Dame missed its first three shots.

Enter Taya Reimer.

Notre Dame’s 6-foot-3 freshman post used position to grab the first rebound. On the second missed shot, she outhustled the Spartans to the carom. Her third rebound of the possession was a matter of Reimer muscling inside and being too physical for the Spartans to handle.

Reimer set a tone early, and helped the No. 6-ranked Irish dominate the boards in an 81-62 victory against the No. 20 Spartans.

Reimer finished with her first collegiate double-double, 19 points and 13 rebounds. Jewell Loyd scored 22 points and had nine rebounds to lead the Irish. Kayla McBride contributed 15 points and nine rebounds.

Becca Mills led the Spartans with 15 points.

Notre Dame (2-0) hosts Valparaiso on Saturday at 2 p.m. EST. Irish legend Skylar Diggins will be inducted into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor prior to the game. Michigan State (0-1) hosts Canisius on Thursday at 7 p.m. EST. Notre Dame’s victory was its eighth consecutive win against a Big Ten opponent.

Notre Dame grabbed a 36-24 halftime lead fueled by its work on the boards. Notre Dame was 13-of-38 shooting in the first half (34 percent), but the Irish had a 31-16 rebounding edge. Notre Dame had 14 offensive rebounds to four by the Spartans and the Irish owned a difference-making 14-0 advantage in second-chance points. The Irish finished the game with a 52-29 rebounding edge, including 24 offensive boards for a 25-6 margin in second-chance points.

“It’s something we’ve definitely been focusing on,” Reimer said of the Irish assault on the boards. “We knew they were going to be a really physical team, and they were bigger than the teams we played before. We really focused on positioning and being physical, and trying to be mean. That’s the only way that you can muscle for those rebounds.”

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said the Spartans sacrificed offensive rebounding to try to contain the lethal Irish transition game, but couldn’t block out the Irish at the defensive end.

“We took a card out of the Wisconsin men’s playbook in some ways, where when the shot went up, we just sent everybody back, because they’re so good in transition,” Merchant said. “We wanted them to at least go up against our set defense. For the most part, I think that was effective.

“The problem was, we couldn’t keep them off the boards (when the Irish were on offense), and our energy, as we weren’t going to send anybody to the boards on the offensive end, needed to be exerted with a little more will and determination on the other end. So if you take 25 second-chance points out of there – 10 or 12 or those – it’s a different game. It really is a different game. We just couldn’t find a way to keep them off the boards, so you have to give them a lot of credit.”

Merchant added that if the Spartans had 6-foot-7 Madison Williams, who is sidelined for at least another month with a knee injury, the rebounding tale would have been different. Notre Dame, though, was missing its top rebounder from last season. Natalie Achonwa, a 6-3 post who averaged 9.5 rebounds a game last season, is out for at least another week with a knee injury.

Notre Dame’s defense also took a toll on the Spartans. The Irish defense kicked in late in the first half. On their last 17 possessions of the first half, the Spartans were 2-of-13 with five turnovers, as the Irish went on a 13-4 run to close out the first half and take a 36-24 halftime lead.

“I was really, really pleased with our defense,” McGraw said. “I thought we rebounded the ball extremely well, really at both ends of the floor. But, defensively, I thought we did a lot of good things. I thought our zone was really good for this early in the year. It was just a great win over a really good team. They’re very talented. They’re going to be a great team. They will do really well in the Big Ten. I think that’s a huge win for us this early in the year.

“I think our zone flustered them a little bit. We were getting in some passing lanes and getting some deflections, and they were missing shots. They had some really good looks that they just missed. It was the first game for them, maybe they were just a little bit jittery.’’

Notre Dame built a 58-40 lead, but a 7-0 run by Michigan State made it 58-47 when the Irish called time with 8:37 left in the game.

Loyd took over, fueling a 9-2 run that gave the Irish a 71-53 lead with 4:56 left in the game. Loyd connected off of an alley-oop pass from Lindsay Allen on a fastbreak, and hit an airborne jumper as she was fouled to put the Irish fans on their feet, and knock the Spartans off theirs.

“Jewell was the player of the game,” McGraw said. “She made a lot of big things happen for us offensively, got some rebounds, and scored when she wanted to.’’

Loyd, a 5-10 sophomore guard, was 8-of-20, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and hit 4-of-5 free throws. She also kicked out four assists.

“I just really tried to take what the defense was giving me,” Loyd said. “I think we all were really anxious to get out here. We were just hyped. Sometimes it goes like that. Once we settled down, I think it played well for us.”

MICHIGAN ST. (0-1): Annalise Pickrel 5-14 0-0 11, Becca Mills 7-13 1-2 15, Kiana Johnson 1-8 0-0 2, Klarissa Bell 6-10 0-0 12, Aerial Powers 2-3 0-0 4, Tori Jankoska 4-9 4-4 14, Mariah Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Branndais Agee 2-4 0-2 4. Totals 27-62 5-8 62.

NOTRE DAME (2-0): Taya Reimer 8-13 3-4 19, Ariel Braker 3-3 1-2 7, Lindsay Allen 2-6 2-3 7, Kayla McBride 6-23 2-2 15, Jewell Loyd 8-20 4-5 22, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 1-1 0-0 2, Madison Cable 1-1 1-2 3, Michaela Mabrey 0-2 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Markisha Wright 2-4 2-2 6. Totals 31-73 15-20 81.

Halftime — Notre Dame 36-24. 3-Point Goals — Michigan St. 3-17 (Jankoska 2-6, Pickrel 1-4, Harris 0-1, Mills 0-2, Bell 0-2, Johnson 0-2), Notre Dame 4-10 (Loyd 2-3, Allen 1-2, McBride 1-3, Mabrey 0-2). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Michigan St. 29 (Pickrel 12), Notre Dame 52 (Reimer 13). Assists — Michigan St. 16 (Pickrel 5), Notre Dame 23 (Allen, McBride, Reimer 5). Total Fouls — Michigan St. 15, Notre Dame 8. A — 8,242.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd, left, moves by Michigan State's Annalise Pickrel during Monday's women's basketball game against Michigan State at Purcell Pavilion.