Even pants-pulling can't slow ND's Brianna Turner

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Nobody in the blue uniforms was in the same stratosphere as Brianna Turner Thursday night.

The 6-foot-3 freshman post for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team was head and shoulders better than anyone for Virginia.

Literally.

In an effort to defend her, Cavalier forward Lauren Moses took the low road, so to speak. As Turner was going up for a shot, Moses yanked on Turner’s shorts to try to keep her earth-bound.

Penn High grad Rod Creech, who was officiating the game, saw the infraction, blew his whistle, and had trouble containing his laughter.

Gotta do something, right?

“A lot of times I’m fouled and the contact isn’t up top, it’s down low,” said Turner. “Sometimes the refs miss it. It happens a few times a game.”

Virginia tried just about everything and Turner still was dominant with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and – much to coach Muffet McGraw’s pleasure – ZERO turnovers, in Notre Dame’s 75-54 victory.

“I think I lead the country in turnovers,” Turner said, exaggerating a bit. She has 45 in 21 games.

Since a right shoulder injury against Maryland (Dec. 3) that sidelined Turner for three games (including the loss to Connecticut), she has reached double-figure scoring in 12 of 13 outings. Her 15.0 scoring average is second on the team behind Jewell Loyd (21.3), while Turner’s 7.4 rebounds a game lead.

Her 68 percent field goal percentage leads the Atlantic Coast Conference by nearly 10 percentage points.

“It’s been a major leap (since November),” Irish assistant Carol Owens, who deals with the post players, said of Turner’s progress. “She’s understanding game film and how important it is. She’s realizing what we do in practice has to be translated onto the basketball court. She’s doing a better job of that.”

One important message that Turner has received: Play hard at all times.

“Her evolution is understanding the pace of the game; the strategy,” Owens said. “There’s so much that goes into preparing for each game.

“We’re still working on her being aggressive every possession. She’s hard to guard. (When) she stands around, she allows the defense to adjust and guard her. She’s getting better in the movements and what we’re looking for.

“She’s learning the strategy and building her IQ at this level.”

“The past couple games I wasn’t leaving it out on the floor like I could have,” Turner said. “I tried to come out tonight and grab every rebound, and run the floor hard.”

Might not have gotten ‘em all, but she got a bunch.

“With Bri, it’s more of just being a little freer to just play, instead of worrying about the offense; where she’s supposed to be,” McGraw said. “We’re trying to get her to look for her opportunities. It’s hard because she’s so unselfish. She doesn’t like to look for herself.

“Our game plan has shifted where we’re looking to go inside more than we did at the beginning of the year.”

A reflection of that strategy came in Notre Dame’s 50-18 domination in the paint against the Cavs.

A new wrinkle to Turner’s game has come on defense. Several years ago, the Irish made a living with a full-court pressure defense that had the long and rangy Devereaux Peters at the point causing havoc. Through the first three months of the season, McGraw had resisted going back to it. The last few games it has been used, and was effective.

“We started working (on the press) early in the season and didn’t feel comfortable with it,” McGraw said. “Lately, we felt that it was looking better in practice, so we’ve started using it more.

“She’s really hard to get around at the top of it. She’s getting a lot more comfortable getting up on the ball.”

“Knowing when to be on the ball (is a key for learning the press); when to move with the ball,” Turner said. “When to rush the player and when to back off – really, just being in the right place at the right time.”

Scouting reports on Turner are circulating around the ACC. As the Irish brace for a stretch run that includes Duke and Louisville before the league tournament – and ultimately the NCAA Tournament – adjustments may be necessary.

“It’s her size and her athleticism,” said Virginia coach Joanne Boyle. “You can just throw the ball up to the rim and she can go get it. It’s difficult for us, and a lot of teams, to guard her because she’s so athletic. They set a lot of back screens for her and just lobbed it up there.”

“Teams are going to adjust to how they play her,” Owens said. “Sometimes they’re not going to give her a lob. Sometimes they’re going to jam her from her cuts. Getting her opportunities to get the ball is something she’ll have to understand.”

It’s all part of the process.

For now, it’s all been positive.

Notre Dame's Brianna Turner (11) takes a break in the action, along with Lindsay Allen (15), Thursday during fourth-ranked ND's 75-54 victory over Virginia at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)