Offense is in flow for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – When the offense flows, the numbers show.

It goes beyond points for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team. Look at assists; and turnovers.

Those stat categories have a direct bearing on the column that counts.

The first 20 minutes of Notre Dame’s 95-61 NCAA Tournament first-round win over North Carolina A&T was as close to a clinic for the Irish offense as there has been.

Save the tape and show it at the next coaches convention.

Notre Dame had 21 baskets, 20 assists and six turnovers. The Irish led, 52-24. Katherine Westbeld’s rebound and coast-to-coast dash to the basket just before intermission was the only bucket without help.

Pretty impressive. In fact, really impressive.

“Twenty assists and six turnovers in the first half – that’s pretty amazing,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “We really were sharing the ball well.

“Everybody’s willing to give the ball up. Nobody cares how many points they score.”

Take that to the “nth” degree. Lindsay Allen, who had eight of her 10 assists in the first half, didn’t have a single shot in the first 20 minutes.

“My game is taking what the defense gives me,” Allen said. “We were making such great passes that it really didn’t matter that I didn’t take a shot. It doesn’t matter who scores; it only matters that we do score.”

“(Allen) has great vision,” said Irish assistant coach Beth Cunningham. “She does a great job setting people up and plays to people’s strengths – whether it’s hitting our shooters on the 3-point line or getting (post Brianna Turner) a lob to the rim.

“We’ve got unselfish kids; kids that are selfless. It’s kids understanding our offense and different reads in it.”

Notre Dame finished with 29 assists, a school record in an NCAA Tournament game.

“One of our favorite statistics to look at is when we have a lot of assists,” said Hannah Huffman, who is versatile enough to play guard or forward and had five assists. “Coach is real happy about that.

“It starts on the defensive end of the floor. When we get stops and we get rebounds, and we’re able to go out and run, that’s when we really start to play well and are able to get into a rhythm.

“Our defense sparks our offense. Once we start getting into a flow, we’re really hard to guard.”

Of course, when the offense gets a bit stagnant, that’s another situation to negotiate. The Irish had the Aggies doubled up, 84-42, late in the third quarter when the energy and the flow were impeded.

“(Maintaining the intensity) is a mental challenge,” Huffman said. “We want to have a high standard of play all the time; like we’re playing for a national championship.”

That being said, it was no surprise when – with 7:01 left in the game and A&T just starting an 11-2 run, McGraw erupted. After a turnover that resulted in an uncontested Aggie layup, McGraw called a timeout and – fuming – trudged to mid-court to meet her players before they even got to the bench, all the while giving them an earful.

“You always know you’re in a little bit of trouble when coach comes out running out to halfcourt,” said Huffman, a senior who has seen McGraw breathing fire before. “We definitely deserved it.”

“I couldn’t restrain myself today,” McGraw said. “It just got ugly. I felt bad for the fans who were still watching the game. We’ve got some work to do on the press offense.”

Perfection is the mandate, no matter the score or the time on the clock.

“It’s important not to coast to the finish,” McGraw said. “We’ve done that in games before. You see how important Lindsay Allen is to our team (she wasn’t playing in the fourth quarter). We need her on the floor. She directs traffic. She gets us in what we need to be in. She makes everybody look so much better.”

And she keeps the flow going really well.

Notre Dame's Diamond Thompson (35) passes the ball over North Carolina A&T's defense during the teams first round NCAA match up against North Carolina A&T Saturday, March 19, 2016 in South Bend. The Fighting Irish beat the Aggies 95-61. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ