Notre Dame women's basketball utterly unselfish in win over Harvard

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – A former boys basketball coach at South Bend Central High School long ago wrote “unselfish team play and team spirit are two of the foremost essentials for our success.”

That coach, John Wooden, who became “The Wizard of Westwood” at UCLA with 10 NCAA men’s titles, late in life became an unabashed admirer of women’s basketball. All the unselfish things that Wooden learned about James Naismith’s game growing up in Martinsville, playing at Purdue, and finally coaching high school and college basketball in Indiana, are evident today in the women’s game.

You get the feeling that Wooden, who died a few months short of his 100th birthday in 2010, would be a huge fan of Muffet McGraw’s second-ranked Notre Dame women’s team, which Monday night ran its record to 5-0 with a 97-43 dismantling of Harvard on the second night of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge in the Purcell Pavilion.

The all-time winningest coach in Ivy League basketball history, Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith, didn’t have to play Notre Dame to know – she’s always been a big fan of McGraw and the unselfish basketball her teams have played.

“I admire the way Muffet coaches,” Smith said. “Her teams are well-coached, well-drilled, deep and athletic. They find each other so well. Their blind passes to each other are amazing.”

On a night when junior All-American Jewell Loyd (2-of-14 shooting, 11 points) struggled to find her shot and freshman sensation Brianna Turner didn’t make any from the field (she was 0-for-2 from the floor and scored three points), the other 10 Irish players passed the ball around until they found the open shooter. The Irish, who shot just under 49 percent, produced 21 assists on their 32 field goals, and many times they passed up an open shot to allow a teammate to score a basket that was even more uncontested.

“The most important stat to me is the assist-to-turnover ratio,” said McGraw, whose team had just 11 giveaways while forcing 26 by the Crimson, who fell to 2-2, with the help of 17 steals. “We are a team with great chemistry, and they like playing together. They’re always willing to make the extra pass and that has kind of become our trademark over the last four years. I would like to pass less sometimes, especially around the basket, but we did a nice job tonight sharing the ball.”

Notre Dame finished with five players in double figures, led by sophomore starting forward Taya Reimer, who had 14 points. Reserves Madison Cable and Hannah Huffman each had 12 points (Huffman’s were a career-high) and Loyd and junior wing Michaela Mabrey had 11 each. Despite her offensive output, Turner and fellow freshman Kathryn Westbeld each had eight rebounds as Notre Dame enjoyed a 51-29 advantage on the boards.

Mabrey, Cable, Huffman and Westbeld each produced three steals as Notre Dame used a variety of defenses and pressed to confuse Harvard.

Mabrey also led the Irish with a team-high four assists and probably could have had a couple of more if her teammates had finished off their shots. Allen had three assists, while Turner, Cable, Markisha Wright and freshmen Westbeld and Mychal Johnson had two each.

Johnson, a 5-foot-8 freshman toothpick who isn’t afraid to sacrifice her body for the good of the team, took the unselfishness to a different level late when she took a pair of charges against the Crimson with Notre Dame sitting on a 95-41 lead with just over a minute to play.

“I think that really speaks to the unselfishness of our team,” Reimer said. “Seeing her take two charges and sacrifice her body for our team despite being up by a lot shows how much she cares about all of her teammates.”

Johnson left the court after the second collision but was OK following the game.

“I really like our chemistry,” Mabrey said. “We’re extremely unselfish and I think it shows throughout the game.”

It showed late in the first half as Notre Dame was closing off the second half with a 42-3 run for a 59-13 lead at the break. Huffman stole the ball and gave it off to Mabrey, who broke in with Cable on a 2-on-1 break. Mabrey fed Cable for what would have been an easy basket except that Cable passed it back to Mabrey for an even easier one and a 44-13 lead with 3:49 to play in the first half.

“In stretches like these, we just want to play hard and execute,” Mabrey continued. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We are always going to play our game. The older players have really taught that to the freshman. We just need to play how we play.”

The Irish play Quinnipiac Tuesday night at 6 and Holy Cross meets Harvard at 8 to conclude play in the Notre Dame pod of the tournament that concludes with four games Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., where the Irish play Kansas at 1 p.m.

HARVARD (43): Temi Fagbenle 2-7 1-1 5, AnnMarie Healy 3-9 0-0 7, Erin McDonnell 4-8 0-0 10, Ali Curtis 2-8 1-2 6, Kaitlyn Dinkins 0-1 0-0 0, Shilpa Tummala 3-8 1-1 8, Destiny Nunley 0-4 0-0 0, Kirby Porter 0-2 0-0 0, Kit Metoyer 2-10 0-0 5, Maddy Tessier-Kay 0-0 0-0 0, Anna Lachenauer 1-2 0-0 2, TOTALS 17-59 3-4 43.

NOTRE DAME (97): Brianna Turner 0-2 3-4 3, Taya Reimer 6-10 2-2 14, Lindsay Allen 3-5 1-2 7, Michaela Mabrey 4-6 2-2 11, Jewell Loyd 2-14 7-8 11, Kathryn Westbeld 3-6 1-2 8, Markisha Wright 1-2 5-6 7, Hannah Huffman 4-6 4-4 12, Madison Cable 5-8 0-0 12, Mychal Johnson 3-5 3-4 9, Whitney Holloway 1-1 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 0-0 1-2 1, TOTALS 32-65 29-36 97.

Halftime: Notre Dame 59, Harvard 13.

Shooting: Harvard 17 of 59 for 28.8 percent; Notre Dame 32 of 65 for 49.2 percent. 3-pointers: Harvard 6 of 24 for 25 percent (McDonnell 2, Healy 1, Curtis 1, Tummala 1, Metoyer 1); Notre Dame 4 of 13 for 30.8 percent (Cable 2, Mabrey 1, Westbeld 1). Rebounds: Harvard 29 (McDonnell 6, Lachenauer 5); Notre Dame 51 (Turner 8, Westbeld 8, Allen 7, Loyd 5). Assists: Harvard 7 (Curtis 3, Healy 2, Metoyer 2); Notre Dame 21 (Mabrey 4, Allen 3, Turner 2, Johnson 2, Cable 2, Westbeld 2). Blocked shots: Harvard 6 (Lachenauer 3); Notre Dame 2 (Reimer 1, Huffman 1). Steals: Harvard 9 (Fagbenle 2, Healy 2, McDonnell 2); Notre Dame 17 (Mabrey 3, Cable 3, Huffman 3, Westbeld 3, Turner 2, Johnson 2). Turnovers: Harvard 26 (Porter 5, Tummala 4); Notre Dame 11 (Allen 2, Johnson 2, Huffman 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Harvard 24 (none); Notre Dame 8 (none).

Officials: Lawson Newton, Edward Sidlasky, Kristi Vera. Records: Harvard 2-2, Notre Dame 5-0. A—8,566.

Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer, center, looks for a shot with pressure from Harvard’s Destiny Nunley, left, and Kit Metoyer during the Notre Dame-Harvard NCAA women's basketball game on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN