After rough first half, Irish women overtake Vols

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Stung by a fiery first half from Tennessee, Notre Dame unleashed a torrid half of its own, dominating the host Volunteers in the final 20 minutes for an 86-70 victory Monday night in women’s basketball action.

Down by as many as 12 points, Notre Dame roared back with a 17-3 run early in the second half, and then slugged the Volunteers with a 13-0 run that locked up Notre Dame’s fourth consecutive victory against Tennessee.

The Volunteers lead the series, 20-4. It was Notre Dame’s 40th consecutive regular-season victory and 29th straight regular-season road win.

Notre Dame (17-0, 4-0 ACC) jumps back into league play on Thursday at home against Miami (10-7, 2-2). Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. Tennessee (14-4) hopes to rebound against Florida on Thursday.

Irish star sophomore Jewell Loyd suffered an apparent knee injury after being fouled with 2:29 left in the game and Notre Dame leading, 81-65. Loyd walked off the court with a limp. She will be evaluated Tuesday to find out the extent of the injury.

Kayla McBride led Notre Dame with 22 points. Natalie Achonwa and Michaela Mabrey scored 15 points apiece. Madison Cable added 12, Loyd 11.

“We’re veterans,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of her team refusing to panic when it fell behind by 12. “I thought, ‘We’re going to learn a good lesson, win or lose. It’s going to prepare us down the road for the ACC.’

“It was a great crowd, a hostile environment. We haven’t really seen anything quite this big this year. I thought it was just a great opportunity to see where we are. It wasn’t really going to change a lot of things if we lost the game, but we would have a little more focus heading into the ACC games.”

Meighan Simmons scored 23 points and Ariel Massengale added 14 for Tennessee.

Massengale was shutout in the second half after scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range. She was 0-for-6 in the second half.

Massengale and Simmons took advantage of Notre Dame’s top two wing defenders — Loyd and Lindsay Allen — sitting on the bench with two fouls each in the first half. Loyd only played five minutes, while Allen was in for 11 minutes.

“I thought it was the difference in the game was getting (Loyd and Allen) back in the second half,” McGraw said. “We can get up and guard the ball with Lindsay and Jewell. Simmons is a tough matchup for us. I don’t know that we slowed her down in the second half, but I thought we at least had a hand in her face.”

Notre Dame cranked up the defense in the second half, coming up with nine steals to finish with 13. The Irish scored 22 points off turnovers compared to Tennessee’s 12. In the first half, Tennessee owned a 10-9 edge in that category.

"Nothing changed the way they were guarding ball screens. They started switching it on the perimeter,” Massengale said. “Sometimes I think we took bad shots or took quick shots and didn’t necessarily run our offense at all like we should have."

Notre Dame’s defense handcuffed the Volunteers in the opening minutes of the second half after getting lit up for 46 points and 55.9-percent shooting, both season highs against the Irish. The Vols were 8-of-32 in the second half (25 percent) and finished shooting 40.9 percent.

Notre Dame hit 50 percent of its shots (34-of-68), including 24 of its last 33 (73 percent).

Tennessee hit its first jumper of the second half for a 48-41 edge, but the Vols missed their next eight shots.

Notre Dame took advantage to reel off an 8-0 run for a 49-48 lead with 15:27 left. Taya Reimer’s three-point play off an offensive rebound capped the run.

Sharpshooter Mabrey hit back-to-back 3s, and Madison Cable  connected for another to highlight a 17-3 run that gave the Irish a 58-51 lead with 12:13 left. Tennessee only hit two of 15 shots during the stretch.

"I’m a shooter, that’s my job,” Mabrey said of her clutch shooting. “So, no matter what, I’m just going to keep shooting. Kayla really helps me in that. When I miss the first couple, she always comes up to me and tells me to keep shooting. I think that helps me build my confidence back up."

Cable added another 3-pointer and a steal, drive and basket, and then Loyd scored on a fastbreak drive and dished to Achonwa for another fastbreak layup. Achonwa was fouled on her basket and hit the free throw to push the Irish lead to 68-56 with 8:57 left.

Notre Dame ended up with a 13-point run and led 73-56 with 5:31 remaining. From there, the Irish cruised.

Tennessee owned the first half, but the Irish spark began with a 6-0 run at the end to close to 46-41 at halftime. Notre Dame managed to find its offensive touch late, hitting eight of its last nine shots.

The Irish finished shooting 50 percent (18-of-36) in the opening half.

In addition to Massengale’s 14 points, Simmons connected for 12 in the half. The Vols’ volatile 1-2 punch combined to shoot 10-of-16 in the half, including 5-of-5 from 3-point range.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said Notre Dame’s switching defense took a toll on the Volunteers in the second half.

"I didn’t think we took as good of shots as we did in the first half,” Warlick said. “They’re switching. I keep saying, ‘You’ve got to go back and make layups and make free throws,’ and we couldn’t do that. Then they made us rush and we turned the ball over. In the first half, we didn’t turn the ball over.

“In the second half, we turned the ball over, which led to open layups for them. But you can’t turn the ball over against a team like Notre Dame. It’s going to be layups. Our ability to take care of the ball in the first half was outstanding for us and, for some reason, we stopped running the ball and started pushing. We didn’t make shots.”

NOTRE DAME (17-0): Natalie Achonwa 7-11 1-4 15, Lindsay Allen 0-4 0-0 0, Kayla McBride 8-16 3-5 22, Jewell Loyd 5-10 0-0 11, Ariel Braker 1-4 0-0 2, Taya Reimer 4-6 1-1 9, Madison Cable 4-7 1-2 12, Michaela Mabrey 5-10 2-2 15. Totals 34-68 8-14 86.

TENNESSEE (14-4): Jasmine Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Ariel Massengale 5-15 1-2 14, Meighan Simmons 10-14 0-0 23, Bashaara Graves 2-6 0-0 4, Isabelle Harrison 4-11 5-7 13, Jordan Reynolds 0-2 0-0 0, Cierra Burdick 2-8 1-3 5, Andraya Carter 1-3 2-4 4, Mercedes Russell 3-5 1-3 7. Totals 27-66 10-19 70.

Halftime — Tennessee 46-41. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 10-20 (Cable 3-4, McBride 3-6, Mabrey 3-7, Loyd 1-2, Allen 0-1), Tennessee 6-9 (Massengale 3-3, Simmons 3-4, Reynolds 0-1, Carter 0-1). Fouled Out — Reimer. Rebounds — Notre Dame 37 (Achonwa, McBride 7), Tennessee 46 (Harrison 16). Assists — Notre Dame 23 (McBride 7), Tennessee 15 (Massengale 6). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 19, Tennessee 13. A — 13,346.

Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride, right, goes after a loose ball with Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale (5) during a women's NCAA college basketball game on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)