Notre Dame hits growth spurt in win over Louisville

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – You never know when young basketball players are going to hit a growth spurt.

Even Notre Dame head women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw, a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach, was left wondering about her team somewhat Monday night after its 12th straight victory, a 68-52 triumph over eighth-ranked Louisville before 8,911 fans at the Purcell Pavilion. It left the Irish just a Senior Night's victory this upcoming Thursday against visiting Pittsburgh from their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.

“Well, I'm not sure what happened,” McGraw began following Notre Dame's eighth victory in nine outings against Top 25 opponents. “Suddenly, I'm pleased with the defense for two games in a row.”

It helps, of course, that 6-foot-3 freshman forward Brianna Turner became a force in the middle with six of her game-high seven blocked shots in the final 20 minutes while adding 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds. While Turner was busy redirecting Louisville shots, Jewell Loyd's game-high 20 points and 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting by Turner's frontcourt mate, 6-foot-3 sophomore Taya Reimer, gave the Irish what they needed offensively.

After holding Georgia Tech to just 36.9-percent shooting last Thursday in a rough-and-tumble 71-61 victory in Atlanta, Notre Dame (26-2 overall, 13-1 ACC) showed the Cardinals, which had held its ACC opponents to a league-low 56.0 points per game, how to really get things done on the defensive end.

Notre Dame led just 31-28 after a seesaw first half which saw each team lead by no more than five points. In the second half, Louisville tried to work the clock only to have the strategy backfire as several forced shots went awry with the 30-second clock running down.

“I think we were really able to play well the entire shot clock, which is really good for us,” McGraw said. “I thought we played a really intelligent game.”

The Cardinals shot 33.3 percent (21 of 63) for the game including just 29 percent (9 of 31) in a second half that featured a 16-0 run which took Notre Dame from a 37-35 deficit with 16:27 remaining to a 51-37 lead just five minutes and 10 seconds later.

“It's awesome seeing our players doing well,” said Loyd, who has struggled lately with her shot but may have it back after hitting six of 12 from the field and eight of 10 from the charity stripe. “It sparks everyone, everyone starts building up energy. I think (Louisville) got a little aggressive. Bri started taking control of the paint and Taya was unreal tonight. She wasn't thinking. She was cash money. I love that.”

Louisville (23-4, 11-3) got 11 points each from Sara Hammond, Shawnta' Dyer and Mariya Moore, and Hammond added nine rebounds as Louisville managed a 37-33 advantage on the boards with the help of a 17-5 edge in offensive rebounds.

“Well, they scored and we didn't; I thought we panicked at times,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who didn't think much about the officiating and got a technical courtesy of official Carla Fountain during the Irish run at 11:40 when he protested one of Turner's blocks. “They fouled us 10 times in the first half, and then with 1:08 to go in the game they've got one team foul? I've never seen anything like that where a team went 18 minutes and fouled one time.”

Loyd made the two technical shots and Turner took a feed from fellow freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld after Notre Dame retained possession after Walz's tirade and Notre Dame suddenly was ahead 51-37. The Cardinals managed to get back within five with a 9-0 run at 51-46 with 7:48 to play, but Michaela Mabrey found Turner down low and the resulting 3-point play sent the Irish off on a 17-6 run to end the game.

Reimer hit two of her eight field goals (both on assists from Allen, who tied a career high with nine) and the Irish hit 10 of 11 free throws down the stretch, finishing with 20 of 23 (87 percent).

“I know I can hit that shot and they've told me to keep taking it,” Reimer said about the shots in the 12-to-15 foot range. “I'm glad tonight I finally hit it.”

So was McGraw.

“It's exactly what we need,” she said. “Teams have been sagging off the post when she is at the high post, and now they are going to have to come out and guard her.”

Next up are the Panthers (18-9, 8-6 ACC) who have victories over North Carolina and Miami this season. The Irish close the regular season at North Carolina State on Sunday.


At Purcell Pavilion, South Bend

LOUISVILLE (52): Sara Hammond 5-16 0-0 11, Myisha Hines-Allen 3-9 0-2 6, Mariya Moore 4-12 2-2 11, Sheronne Vails 1-2 0-0 2, Jude Schimmel 2-6 0-0 5, Shawnta' Dyer 4-6 3-3 11, Bria Smith 1-7 0-2 2, Arica Carter 1-2 0-0 2, Emmonnie Henderson 0-3 2-4 2, TOTALS 21-63 7-13 52.

NOTRE DAME (68): Brianna Turner 4-5 3-4 11, Taya Reimer 8-8 0-0 16, Lindsay Allen 2-9 4-4 9, Michaela Mabrey 1-4 0-0 3, Jewell Loyd 6-12 8-10 20, Madison Cable 1-4 5-5 7, Kathryn Westbeld 1-5 0-0 2, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 23-47 20-23 68.

Halftime: Notre Dame 31, Louisville 28.

Shooting: Louisville 21 of 63 for 33 percent; Notre Dame 23 of 47 for 48.9 percent. 3-point shooting: Louisville 3 of 7 (Schimmel 1-1, Hammond 1-2, Moore 1-3, Smith 0-1) for 42.9 percent; Notre Dame 2 of 8 (Mabrey 1-2, Allen 1-2, Loyd 0-1, Cable 0-3) for 25 percent. Free-throw shooting: Louisville 7 of 13 for 53.8 percent; Notre Dame 20 of 23 for 87.0 percent. Rebounds: Louisville 37 (Hammond 9, Moore 6, Hines-Allen 5, Dyer 5); Notre Dame 33 (Turner 9, Loyd 7, Allen 4). Assists: Louisville 14 (Schimmel 7, Moore 3); Notre Dame 18 (Allen 9, Mabrey 3, Reimer 2, Westbeld 2). Turnovers: Louisville 11 (Moore 3, Schimmel 2, Carter 2, Dyer 2, Smith 2); Notre Dame 13 (Cable 3, Turner 2, Allen 2, Loyd 2, Westbeld 2). Blocked shots: Louisville 2 (Dyer 2); Notre Dame 8 (Turner 7, Reimer 1). Steals: Louisville 8 (Schimmel 4); Notre Dame 6 (Cable 2, Westbeld 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Louisville 19 (Moore, 3:45 2nd half); Notre Dame 10 (none).

Officials: Bryan Brunette, Carla Fountain, Billy Smith. Records: Louisville 23-4 overall, 11-3 Atlantic Coast Conference; Notre Dame 26-2 overall, 13-1 Atlantic Coast Conference. A—8,911.

Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer, right, looks to pass around Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen 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)