Brianna Turner able to turn it on for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Sure didn’t feel like a 16-point victory.

Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team was one spurt away from a battle to the buzzer.

Instead, a five-minute Louisville lapse opened the door for a 68-52 Irish win Monday night.

Cardinals coach Jeff Walz attributed the 16-0 Notre Dame explosion to panic on the part of his players.

His counterpart at Notre Dame, Muffet McGraw, credited the Irish defense with rising to the occasion.

In reality, it was 6-foot-3 freshman Brianna Turner who came to life and forced the issue.

After being pushed, shoved, submarined, and generally knocked around most of the night, Turner finally decided to assert herself. During that pivotal stretch, Turner had four of her 11 points; three of her nine rebounds; and, five of her seven blocked shots.

That’s not even counting how many Louisville shots were adjusted by the presence of those long arms.

“Brianna Turner changed the game with the blocked shots,” McGraw said. “She was phenomenal.

“Seven blocks – it seemed like she had one on every possession, got the break going, got down in transition. That’s what stretched the lead.”

It was 10 points into the run when Walz had had enough. Sara Hammond, a quality Cardinal post, went for a layup, but had her shot rejected. Walz said that was the second time an official raised an arm, as if to begin to call a foul, but quickly dropped it and let the play stand.

He voiced his emotion-laced opinion to the official. Shortly thereafter, he was hit with a technical foul.

Not sure what his outburst accomplished.

“(Turner) does a real good job of contesting shots,” said Walz, who coached Turner last summer with the U18 national team. “She’s quick off the ground.

“(In the first half), we shot-faked her a few times and got her up in the air, then, we passed it underneath her and scored. You just can’t shoot the first (attempt) – which we did.”

“I could tell (the Louisville players) were getting a little frustrated, and their coach was getting a little mad wanting some fouls,” said Turner. “But, I tried to keep my body away and make good blocks.”

Turner, who had just one block, three boards and four points in the first half, has a knack for being able to turn it on and turn things around for the Irish.

“Shot-blocking is an attitude; not as much a physical attitude, which we need to be more physical,” McGraw said. “It’s a pride thing. (Turner) takes a lot of pride in her defense individually.”

“I just tried to be there at the right spot at the right time and get a hand up; at least contest the shot,” Turner said. “I was able to get a hand on a few of them.”

Heck, a lot of them.

Notre Dame’s last couple opponents, Georgia Tech and Louisville, exposed one major flaw in the Irish arsenal – toughness. A concern of McGraw’s since the start of the season, her players are still getting pushed around to the brink of intimidation.

Memo to the Irish medical staff: Pack plenty of ice packs for the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and beyond. The first line of every scouting report is going to suggest that a physical presence can go a long way toward gaining an advantage.

Louisville owned a 23-15 rebounding edge (with 10 offensive boards) in the first half, before Notre Dame closed the gap to 37-33 in the final 20 minutes.

How does McGraw teach toughness? How does she convince her players to be more physical?

“I could lace them up and show them something,” said McGraw, who had a reputation as a scrappy player. “It’s an attitude; it’s a competitive (attitude) like Madison (Cable). She’s not that big and not that strong, but boy she’s going to work and she’s going to battle. That’s the kind of attitude we need.”

Just find the right attitude.

And let Turner know when it’s time to turn it on.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner snags a rebound during the Notre Dame-Louisville women's basketball game on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, left, blocks a shot by Louisville’s Bria Smith during the Notre Dame-Louisville women's basketball game on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)