A system win for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It didn’t take long for Notre Dame to be re-assured that the system really does work.

After struggles against quality women’s basketball teams like Connecticut and DePaul, the Irish had misplaced the flow and function of a well-executed offense.

Saturday, during a decisive 70-50 win over Michigan (6-3), No. 5/4 Notre Dame (10-1) retrieved the formula and made it work.

The high-flying, jaw-dropping electricity that has become a trademark of Irish women’s basketball is still on the drawing board, but the efficient, productive method of generating points and winning games was there.

It didn’t have to be the Jewell Loyd show. The Irish junior, who had scored 72 points in the previous two games, needed only 14 points and five rebounds to do her part. Point guard Lindsay Allen stepped up with a career-high 17 points and four assists to lead the way.

“(The bigger offensive role) just came a little more natural for us,” said Allen. “I was just trying to take what the defensive was giving us, and getting out in transition and the break.

“I was just trying to do the little things to get our team going energy-wise.”

Notre Dame’s domination came down low. The Irish doubled up Michigan in the paint, 48-24. Freshman post Kathryn Westbeld was the primary factor with 13 points and eight rebounds.

“I’ve been trying to get more reps during practice inside and outside,” the 6-foot-2 Westbeld said. “I’ve been playing the guard spot, the wing, and coming in to play the post.

“We have a lot of motivation after a disappointing finish against UConn (a 76-58 loss). We know what we have to do, and we’re just continuing to get better.”

“They’re a big, strong, physical team,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said of Notre Dame. “Jewell, as much as she’s a guard, she might be one of the best post players in the country.

“A lot of their points in the paint come off their rebounds (the Irish had 16 offensive boards). That’s the most (offensive rebounds) we’ve given up this year.”

Neither team could get much going from the perimeter. Notre Dame, which has struggled from 3-point range recently, connected on just 3 of 10. The Wolverines, meanwhile, were 3 of 14. Michigan shot only 35 percent (19 of 55) for all its shots.

“(Westbeld) really gave us a lot of scoring in the post,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “We got going in transition in the second half.”

The hangover from three tough games against ranked opponents within a couple weeks may have taken a toll on the Irish early. There was never a true threat that the Wolverines were serious about pulling off an upset, but a 35-24 advantage was the best Notre Dame could do by intermission.

“They only had 24 points at halftime, so I don’t think it was our defense,” McGraw said. “We were just turning the ball over too much (17 for the game) and giving them too many opportunities.”

McGraw pointed to Michigan’s 18 points off turnovers as the key stat of the game.

“A lot of it (is being) careless,” McGraw said of the turnovers. “That’s not being strong with the ball. There were some bad decisions in there. That’s an individual focus issue.”

The Irish now have some time to work things out. With the week off for final exams, they won’t play again until a home game against St. Joseph’s (Pa.) Sunday, Dec. 21. Then they have another week off until they play Dec. 28 at UCLA.

McGraw said 6-3 freshman standout Brianna Turner will return to practices this week. McGraw confirmed her injury as being a dislocated right shoulder from the Maryland game. Turner threw a souvenir into the stands with her right arm, so it appeared encouraging.

MICHIGAN (6-3): Cyesha Goree 8-12 1-2 17, Madison Ristovski 3-8 0-0 7, Siera Thompson 2-6 2-2 8, Shannon Smith 2-6 5-6 9, Nicole Elmblad 1-8 0-0 2, Katelynn Flaherty 1-11 1-1 3, Jillian Dunston 1-1 0-0 2, Terra Stapleton 1-1 0-0 2, Paige Rakers 0-0 0-0 0, Danielle Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Maria Backman 0-2 0-0 0, Emoni Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Kelsey Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-55 9-11 50.

NOTRE DAME (10-1): Taya Reimer 2-6 2-4 6, Lindsday Allen 7-8 2-2 17, Madison Cable 4-7 0-0 9, Michaela Mabrey 1-7 0-0 3, Loyd 7-14 0-1 14, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Mychal Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Hanna Huffman 3-3 0-0 6, Kathryn Westbeld 6-9 1-3 13, Markisha Wright 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 31-60 5-10 70.

Halftime–Notre Dame 35-24. 3-Point Goals–Michigan 3-14 (Thompson 2-4, Ristovski 1-4, Flaherty 0-6), Notre Dame 3-10 (Cable 1-2, Allen 1-2, Mabrey 1-3, Westbeld 0-1, Loyd 0-2). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Michigan 30 (Goree 11), Notre Dame 38 (Westbeld 8). Assists–Michigan 11 (Ristovski 5), Notre Dame 16 (Mabrey 6). Total Fouls–Michigan 16, Notre Dame 11. A–8,904.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) drives past Michigan's Madison Ristovski (1) Saturday at Purcelel Pavilion. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)