Notre Dame women need attitude on boards

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Something to think about come March.

Play that women’s basketball game on a neutral court, like in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and Notre Dame may not survive.

By taking the Irish to the limit – and then some – Friday night, Florida State proved it isn’t 13-2 by accident.

Notre Dame had to put together a nifty escape in a 74-68 victory over the Seminoles.

There’s a whole lot of work to be done.

The most encouraging nugget to take from the closer-than-most fans-expected victory was that Notre Dame’s glaring deficiency on the boards (Florida State had a 38-30 edge) – especially the offensive glass (16-6 Seminoles) – is fixable.

At least that’s the assessment of Irish assistant coach Carol Owens.

It’s Owens’ job to make sure the post players make the impact they’re capable of making. Freshmen Brianna Turner (6-foot-3) and Kathryn Westbeld (6-2), and sophomore Taya Reimer (6-2), are responsible for the bulk of the inside work.

Right now, it’s a monumental task.

It wasn’t long into the game when Seminole freshman Shakayla Thomas, a sturdy 5-11, decked Turner on an inside play. The message was sent. Thomas was physical the entire game, collecting 18 points, but just three rebounds.

“I just try to play strong and not get pushed around and hold my ground in the paint,” Turner said.

“She’s learning now,” Owens said of the physical play that Turner will encounter. “We’ve had some easy games early on. Now, every team we play (Syracuse is next on Sunday), we can show her how people are going to jam her when she comes through. They’ll try to push her under. It will be tough.

“Through experience, she’ll learn how to hold her ground. When we started cutting hard (against Florida State), that’s when their post players started getting in foul trouble.”

Turner was pushed around quite a bit, but finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Turner, who is long and lean, made her most significant contribution with five blocked shots.

Reimer and guard Jewell Loyd led Notre Dame with six rebounds each (each had two offensive caroms). Westbeld had just two (one offensive).

That’s not good enough.

“That’s toughness,” Owens said of the art of rebounding. “As a player, you have to have the will to get the ball.

“A lot of times, we wait and see the ball hit the rim before we make a decision to go. As soon (as the shot is released) we should have been cutting. I’m trying to get them to understand to be moving constantly without the ball; anticipate shots coming off.

“Freshmen and sophomores, they have to mature and they have to understand where their angles are and how to cut in to get offensive rebounds. That’s something they have to get better at fast.”

The numbers on the offensive boards were especially disturbing to head coach Muffet McGraw.

“(Offensive rebounding) is just desire; it’s effort,” McGraw said. “You have to go want the ball. We don’t right now.

“Our offense is a little spread when we have good spacing, so it takes a little bit more effort to get to the backboard. We did a really poor job.”

“Getting offensive rebounds is all about hustle,” Owens said. “If you’re not scoring … I remember when I was a player, if I wasn’t scoring, I was going to get the ball off the glass.

“I have to show them the angles where they can go. Right now, they’re just running to the backs of their opponents. There’s a little technique, but sometimes it’s that will to crash the boards.”

This early in the season, Owens refuses to be discouraged.

“It’s fixable,” she said. “For years we’ve been spoiled by being one of the top rebounding teams in the country. Now we have young kids who have to learn the physicalness, and mature, and get better at that.

“They’ll have to learn about boxing out; making contact. But those are technical things. Those can be hustle plays.”

Hustle’s more of an attitude than a skill.

By March, they better have acquired both.

Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner throws a pass during ND's 74-68 victory over Florida State. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)