Notre Dame women flying high

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame didn’t want to force freshman standout Brianna Turner to come back too soon after she injured her right shoulder early in December.

The time apparently was right.

By the time Saint Joseph’s famed Hawk mascot had finished flapping its wings, the fifth-ranked Irish had earned a 64-50 home victory that included a team-high 19 points (on 7-of-8 shooting), four rebounds and five blocked shots by the 6-3 Turner, one of four players scoring in double figures as Notre Dame improved to 11-1 before breaking for a five-day Christmas vacation.

“It felt really great to be back on the court with my team,” said Turner, who didn’t score a point in the four minutes she played in Notre Dame’s 92-72 victory over Maryland in Fort Wayne on Dec. 3 and then didn’t play in the team’s 76-58 loss to Connecticut Dec. 6, its 94-93 overtime escape at DePaul Dec. 10 and a 70-50 triumph over Michigan just before final exams on Dec. 13.

For head coach McGraw, not a fan of playing her alma mater (she’s now 2-0 at Notre Dame and 2-3 overall against the Hawks), having Turner return and show no ill effects, despited playing with a brace to protect the shoulder, was just the right gift for her team, which returns to the court next Sunday at UCLA before opening defense of its Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title against Florida State Jan. 4 at the Purcell Pavilion.

“After finals, you never really know which way the game is going to go,” McGraw said. “I thought we did a pretty good job. We shot the ball really well. That was the one thing we could do this week is get some shots up, so I’m happy with that. I was really excited to have Brianna back. It definitely changes the game for us. Five blocks and 19 points – we’ve missed that over the last few games.”

Despite limited practice time, the Irish managed to shoot 56.8 percent from the field with 25 field goals in 44 attempts in a slower-paced clash. That included a 0-of-5 effort from beyond the 3-point line, a stat that didn’t concern McGraw that much, nor did the 12 turnovers the Irish committed and the slight rebounding edge, 27-26, her team had against the scrappy and undermanned Hawks, who fell to 3-7.

Junior All-American Jewell Loyd contributed 16 points on 8-of-18 shooting, while sophomore Taya Reimer, Turner’s frontcourt partner, and sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen had 10 points each. Allen contributed a team-high eight rebounds, while Reimer and Loyd each had three assists among Notre Dame’s 10.

The Irish held Saint Joseph’s to 20-of-52 shooting (38.5 percent) and forced six shot-clock violations. Senior guard Natasha Cloud scored 16 points; junior Ciara Andrews added 15 and sophomore gunner Kathleen Fitzpatrick had 13.

“We wanted to use the clock as much as possible, and we thought that our team was pretty good ‘late clock,’” said Saint Joseph’s head coach Cindy Griffin. “They score 80 or 90 points a game and we do not. We are not capable of that. We do not have the depth. To make it a half-court game was something we needed to do today.

“They’re long, they’re lanky and they have a lot of wingspan, especially with No. 11 (Turner) and No. 12 (Reimer),” Griffin said. “However I think our kids played really well and they handled the pressure very well.”

Indeed, it looked like it would be a blowout early as Notre Dame raced to an 8-0 lead before Griffin asked for a 30-second timeout just 2:18 into the contest. The Hawks came out of the timeout with Fitzpatrick hitting a 3-pointer from deep in the corner at 16:45 to ignite a 20-5 run that gave Saint Joseph’s a 20-13 lead with 10:06 to go in the half.

McGraw called her second 30-second timeout at that point and following it began dominating the paint with Nelson, Reimer and Loyd scoring at will. A 10-2 spurt gave Notre Dame a 23-22 lead with 5:19 left and a 16-5 run to the end of the half provided Notre Dame with a 39-27 cushion. The lead soared to 22 points (51-29) on a jumper by Loyd with 13:27 but the Hawks wouldn’t go away and got the deficit down to 10 (56-46) with just under five minutes remaining before Reimer and Allen split up the final eight points.

“Our game plan was to go inside,” said McGraw, whose team outscored the Hawks 24-6 in the paint. “We were trying to run a lot of stuff that would get us some inside touches. I thought we had an advantage in the post. We didn’t take as many 3s and I was happy with that. The game plan was to go inside.”

With Brianna Turner taking up residence there again, inside is a good place to be.

Irish items

The Hawks did win the battle of the benches, 13-7, all of their points coming from Fitzpatrick, who managed a game-high 3 3-pointers and sometimes looked comical hitting them. … Fitzpatrick finally cooled off, somewhat, when McGraw put freshman Mychal Johnson on her. Johnson finished with five points and drew praise from her coach for her defensive work. “I thought Mychal gave us a lift,” McGraw said. “We had trouble staying with 15 (Fitzpatrick) but Mychal shut her down.” … Notre Dame will be without sophomore center Diamond Thompson who has a calf injury that will require 4-6 weeks of rest and rehabilitation. The 6-foot-4 Thompson has averaged 1.6 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.1 assists in limited duty. … And, yes, McGraw, who played for Saint Joseph’s and later got her college coaching start there under current Chattanooga head coach Jim Foster, did shake hands, or wings, with the Hawk mascot.

NOTRE DAME 64, SAINT JOSEPH'S, PA. 50

At Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Ind.

SAINT JOSEPH'S, PA. (50): Ashley Robinson 0-1 0-0 0, Sarah Fairbanks 0-5 2-2 2, Ciara Andrews 7-16 1-1 15, Natasha Cloud 7-14 1-1 16, Chelsea Woods 2-3 0-0 4, Kathleen Fitzpatrick 4-11 2-2 13, Adashia Franklyn 0-2 0-2 0, TOTALS 20-52 6-8 50.

NOTRE DAME (64): Brianna Turner 7-8 5-6 19, Taya Reimer 3-5 4-6 10, Lindsay Allen 4-7 2-2 10, Michaela Mabrey 1-2 0-0 2, Jewell Loyd 8-18 0-0 16, Kathryn Westbeld 0-1 2-2 2, Mychal Johnson 2-2 1-2 5, Madison Cable 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 25-44 14-18 64.

Halftime: Notre Dame 39, Saint Joseph's 27.

Shooting: Saint Joseph's 20 of 52 for 38.5 percent; Notre Dame 25 of 44 for 56.8 percent. 3-pointers: Saint Joseph's 4 of 11 (Fitzpatrick 3-6, Cloud 1-4, Andrews 0-1) for 36.4 percent; Notre Dame 0 of 5 (Loyd 0-2, Mabrey 0-1, Cable 0-1, Westbeld 0-1) for 00.0 percent. Rebounds: Saint Joseph's 26 (Franklyn 7, Woods 5, Fairbanks 4); Notre Dame 27 (Allen 8, Reimer 6, Loyd 5, Turner 4). Assists: Saint Joseph's 2 (Woods 1, Andrews 1); Notre Dame 10 (Reimer 3, Loyd 3, Allen 2). Blocked shots: Saint Joseph's 1 (Franklyn 1); Notre Dame 6 (Turner 5, Reimer 1). Steals: Saint Joseph's 6 (Cloud 5); Notre Dame 5 (Mabrey 2). Turnovers: Saint Joseph's 16 (Cloud 5); Notre Dame 12 (Allen 4, Reimer 3). Total fouls (fouled out): Saint Joseph's 14 (none); Notre Dame 6 (none).

Officials: Angela Lewis, Bruce Morris, Tom Hallead. Records: Saint Joseph's, Pa. 3-7, Notre Dame 11-1. Att.: 8,630.

Notre Dame sophomore guard Lindsay Allen tries to shoot over St. Joseph's Adashia Franklyn during the Fighting Irish women's basketball game Sunday December 21, 2014 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. Notre Dame beat St. Joseph 64-50.( SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)