Disconcerting disconnect for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Somewhere in the numbers there’s a disconnect that must be fixed.

If the Notre Dame women’s basketball team (9-1) plans on playing up to its lofty billing among the nation’s elite (No. 4/5), change must happen.

It needs to start Saturday (1 p.m. EST) at home against Michigan (6-2).

Toss out last week’s loss to Connecticut. that’s a mountain the Irish aren’t prepared to scale just yet.

But Wednesday night’s 94-93 overtime road win over No. 25 DePaul is ripe for examination.

After the game, as the Irish trudged toward the locker room, there was no visible sign of pleasure or celebration of the victory.

The volume of work ahead was painfully obvious.

“We expect more from ourselves,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “I was glad to see we weren’t happy.”

Notre Dame outrebounded DePaul by 20. The Blue Demons missed 17 free throws. Yet, the Irish had to avoid brushes with disaster throughout then go an extra period to pull out a one-point win?

Something didn’t add up.

“The turnovers (22), that was the key stat,” said McGraw.

For the season, Notre Dame averages just over 14 turnovers a game, so the mistakes made against DePaul were beyond the norm. The Irish had 32 baskets and 17 assists; they average 33 and 20, so that didn’t deviate much.

“We were out of sync offensively,” McGraw said.

But when Jewell Loyd has to score 41 points – tying Ruth Riley’s school record – to rescue the Irish from their second consecutive loss, that’s a concern.

“My first goal is to get my teammates the ball,” Loyd said. “Me second. I love seeing my teammates score.”

“We relied on Jewell for so many things,” McGraw said. “We were able to get her on the blocks (posting up her defender) and we were able to get some assists off that.”

“I played point (guard) a little bit, so the ball would be in my hands more, but I just took what the defense gave me,” Loyd said.

Only three Notre Dame players – Loyd (15 of 18), Taya Reimer (3 of 4) and Lindsay Allen (3 of 4) – got to the free throw line all night.

“Madison (Cable) and Michaela (Mabry), their game is more of a perimeter thing, so they don’t get (to the free throw line) very often anyway,” McGraw said. “That didn’t surprise me.”

What has caught the Irish coach off guard is how much the offense has struggled recently – if it’s possible for an offense to be missing its total punch and still put up 94 points.

Having had challenges from ranked teams like Maryland, Connecticut and DePaul within a week, McGraw said a heavy emphasis in practice had been given to defense. She vowed that, over the next couple weeks (before the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Florida State Jan. 2), the offense will get a good, solid look.

One thing that could help bring the function and flow back to the Irish attack would be the return of 6-foot-3 freshman phenom Brianna Turner from a right shoulder injury. McGraw said the initial target date for her comeback was January, but the progress she has shown could speed that up. Maybe the trip to UCLA (Dec. 28) could be when Turner gets back on the floor.

With losses to Princeton (85-55) and Pitt (85-64), Michigan hardly appears to be the same sort of meat grinder Notre Dame has encountered in its last three outings.

“(Michigan’s) a young team, just trying to figure things out,” McGraw said.

She certainly knows what that’s like.

Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd (32) drives against Connecticut’s Kiah Stokes (41) Saturday, December 6, 2014, during the Connecticut-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ