Lesar: Post battle may decide Notre Dame women's opener

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Brimming self-confidence won’t allow the least bit of intimidation to cloud April McRae’s approach to possibly the biggest challenge of her life.

Just another basketball game. Just another post to defend.

Actually, a really good post to defend.

McRae is North Carolina A&T’s top player. The sturdy 6-foot-3 graduate student will be under the microscope Saturday night when she’s challenged to contain Notre Dame’s best, 6-3 Brianna Turner (averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds), in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

“She’s a very good post player and I love playing against good post players,” McRae said Friday. “I love when post players dominate conferences.

“Our whole matchup will be: Who can be the most physical starting a game off? Whoever sets the tone early is going to be the one to be the most successful.

“(Turner’s) put-backs are really good, so I know I’m going to have to box her out. She’s all over the boards; she keeps (the ball) high; gets those little tip-backs in.”

“(Turner) is a talented young lady; definitely athletic,” said Franklin Scott, the Aggies assistant coach in charge of posts. “We have to do a great job making sure we can guard her; limiting some touches; rebound. April, with what she was able to do in the MEAC Tournament, and what she’s done all year long, we have to be able to do a good job with that.”

Notre Dame coaches will be familiar with McRae. Irish assistant Beth Cunningham signed McRae when Cunningham was the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth. A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson was an assistant under Cunningham. When he left for A&T after McRae’s freshman year, Robinson took McRae with him.

This year, McRae is averaging 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. She averaged 16.7 points in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament to earn MVP honors.

“I’m more confident in my abilities,” McRae said of her development in Greensboro. “I started playing basketball in ninth grade. I’m a young player. I love developing myself.

“I had the talent, I just didn’t know I had the talent. It took someone coaching me hard: ‘You can do it; you can do it.’ Then I realized, I could actually do it.

“It’s a great feeling when you have the confidence, ‘I can do this.’ It’s like, ding (a light bulb went off).

“It was more toward the end of last year when I realized I could take on that role.”

“She’s dominating the game a lot more (than ever before),” Scott said. “When she was younger, she may have wanted to do too much. Now, she’s grown her game. It comes down to heart and will. At this point of the season, that’s most important.”

It should count for something against Turner.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, center, shoots next to teammate Marina Mabrey, left, during first round practice for the NCAA women's basketball tournament on Friday, March 18, 2016, inside the Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN