Loyal fan base provides strong support for Notre Dame women


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND-As soon as the Notre Dame women’s basketball team wrapped up its 79-52 victory against Miami on Thursday night, Irish coach Muffet McGraw walked over to the scorer’s table and took the microphone.

McGraw thanked the fans for making their way to Purcell Pavilion. A crowd estimated at more than 4,000 braved fiercely cold weather and a blizzard-like snowstorm that swept across the area during drive time to the arena.

“We were so grateful that so many people showed up for the game,” McGraw said. “I looked outside at one point, and it was a whiteout. I thought we were only going to have about 100 fans in the arena for the game.”

Notre Dame shook off a rough first half and then dominated in the second half. McGraw said the crowd jump-started the Irish.

“We really needed the energy our fans gave us,” McGraw said. “We weren’t getting a whole lot of energy from our bench, and our fans knew we really needed them. Their energy really gave us a boost.”

Notre Dame, ranked No. 2 in the nation, won’t have the luxury of a home crowd for its next game. The Irish (18-0 overall, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at No. 6 Maryland (16-2, 4-1) on Monday. Tip-off is 7 p.m., and ESPN2 has the telecast.

Big advantage

Notre Dame’s average of 8,536 fans for home games is almost double the next best home-court attendance numbers in the ACC. Only three other ACC teams have home attendance averages of more than 4,000 a game, Duke (4,234), Maryland (4,142) and Virginia (4,039).

“I’m really pleased to know that we have a huge home-court advantage in the ACC,” McGraw said. “That’s so important. It really says a lot about our fans, to turn out in the number that they do, and they really make a difference in the game. Our fans are very knowledgeable and they know when we need them.”

Change issue

Notre Dame started out 1-of-11 shooting, but then hit 28-of-56 (50 percent) the rest of the game. The Irish threw the ball away 18 times.

Notre Dame played without leading scorer Jewell Loyd (16.9 points a game) due to a knee sprain, but McGraw said the Irish struggles were about more than Loyd’s absence.

“I think it was a combination of things,” McGraw said. “We had an 8:30 tip, and the players were at the arena all day. Seven o’clock came, and everybody was fired up and ready to go, and then it was like, ‘Oh, we have another hour and a half.’ The first time you have to deal with some-thing like that, it throws you off of your routine.

“The players love routine. Whether it’s at home or on the road, we try to do the same things at exactly the same time. We eat at the same time, we shoot at the same time … we’re very, very much on a routine schedule. When flights are delayed, or game times are different, you have to learn to deal with it.”

Notre Dame’s defense showed up from the start. The Irish held Miami to a season-low shooting percentage (30.6), and were only two points away from holding Miami to a season-low in points. The Irish forced 21 turnovers, and allowed only six assists. But the Irish didn’t take advantage of their defensive opportunities. Notre Dame was outscored in points off of turnovers, 16-14. And even though the Irish had a 53-35 rebounding edge, the Irish outscored Miami only 10-8 in second-chance points.

“I thought we got in each other’s way, a lot, in transition,” McGraw said. “We had a few different combinations out there that we hadn’t played a lot, but it seemed like we’d be running the transition, and somebody would be standing where we wanted to go. We’ve never had those kind of prob-lems before. I’m not that worried about it. I think it’s an anomaly, but it’s a concern if that happens again.”

Missing Jewell

McGraw said the Irish will be eager to get Loyd back in the lineup. Loyd is listed as day-to-day for the Maryland game.

“We missed Jewell’s energy,” McGraw said. “She’s an energy player. She adds so much. She can get a rebound, get a stop, get a steal, get a basket. Obviously, we’re different without Jewell. We’re praying for a speedy recovery. We’d love to get her back in the lineup.”

Second-half domination

Notre Dame outscored Miami 44-26 in the second half with the Irish hitting 18-of-35 shots (51.4 percent) after 11-of-32 shooting in the first half (34.4 percent).

Notre Dame ran its nine-point halftime lead to 35 by the 5:24 mark of the second half. Notre Dame also dominated No. 12 Tennessee on Monday, outscoring the Volunteers 45-24 in the second half after trailing 46-41 at halftime.

"We see glimpses,” Notre Dame senior post Natalie Achonwa said of the Irish ability to take command in a game. “The fact that we can do that is really scary, but the part that would be great is if we could do it in the first half. And that we can do it without having to be down or having to be in a close game, that we can just come out with the mentality to destroy people. I think when we piece together a whole game, we will really destroy people."

Curt Rallo: Crallo@sbtinfo.com

Notre Dame's Markisha Wright (34) moves by Miami's Caprice Dennis during Thursday's gam at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN