Notre Dame women's basketball turns attention to details

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The quickest way for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team to erase the sting from Monday night’s shocking upset loss at Tennessee is to play again.

The Irish (16-3, 4-1) get to do just that Thursday night when they travel to meet Boston College (8-10, 1-4).

The pain of the Irish meltdown at Tennessee was evident on Coach Muffet McGraw’s face Wednesday before the team practiced.

 “It was just an unprecedented collapse,” she said. “It has never happened before. This team just needs more – more help.”

The Irish let a 15-point third-quarter lead get away and squandered a 10-point lead in the final quarter when they shot 3 of 14 and scored only seven points. It is the first time since the 2011-12 season that Notre Dame lost three regular-season games.

“I think you learn a lot more from losing than you do from winning,” said McGraw, who said the team’s focus since their return from Knoxville has been “attention to detail.

“That’s what it was – a lack of attention to detail. A lot of little things were involved,” she said. 

The Irish were out-rebounded, 37-32, and gave up 40 points in the second half when a normally solid defense became porous.

The Irish had plenty of opportunities. Some point-blank shots misfired, three free throws were missed in the final quarter and untimely turnovers led to easy Tennessee baskets. Little things were costly — and there were plenty. The “I won’t let us lose” mentality of recent players like Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Madison Cable seemed to be missing in the unraveling at Tennessee.

It was strange. 

Brianna Turner scored 10 points in the first half – zero in the second half. Freshman Jackie Young was four-for-four in the first half and did not get off an official shot in the final half, though she was fouled on two attempts.

“I think foul trouble hurt Bri a little bit,” said McGraw. “She is shooting 58 percent. The shots she gets are good shots and that is all we can control.”

A difficult early schedule weighted with away games could be a factor and six of the final nine regular-season games are at home. The Irish can regain a tie for first place in the league with a victory Thursday. Currently Florida State is 5-1, a half-game ahead of the Irish. Notre Dame and the Seminoles are the only teams with one loss in ACC play.

It is too early to be worried about a seed in the March NCAA tournament, but Notre Dame, with a strong finish can certainly at least salvage a No. 2 seed.

Boston College has been struggling. BC has lost four straight — all ACC contests. Former rivals in the Big East Conference, Boston College has not defeated Notre Dame since 2006. That game was a first-round contest in that year’s NCAA tournament.

“We can work on a lot of things in this game – especially defense,” said McGraw. “We’ve rarely had a chance to practice. It has always been the day before a game,” she said, referring to the 10 road visits in 12 games the Irish are enduring.

After the Thursday meeting with Boston College, the Irish will come home for Friday classes and then depart Saturday for a Sunday noon clash at North Carolina.

Bright future

The Irish received word that next year’s recruit, Danielle Patterson of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been named to this year’s McDonald’s All-American team. Patterson, at 6-foot-2, will become the 18th McDonald’s All-American to play at Notre Dame.

“I am so excited about Danielle,” said McGraw. “She is going to give us that athletic 4 (position) that can defend and rebound.” 

Patterson will be joining seven other All-Americans expected back next year on the Irish roster —  Jackie Young, Erin Boley, Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale, Ali Patberg, Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld. Another All-American, senior Lindsay Allen, will graduate this spring.

Another 2017 signee is Mikayla Vaughn, who plays for the top-rated high school team in the nation – Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va.

“Mikayla is similar to Patterson,” said McGraw. She is super athletic, can run the floor and also help us with the press and rebounding. I think we have really addressed our needs with those two.”

Also expected next year is Lili Thompson, a point guard who played three years at Stanford before staying away from the game this season. She is in the admission process after expressing her desire to play for the Irish next season.

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale is defended by Tennessee's Diamond DeShields, left, and Mercedes Russell during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. (Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

WHO: No. 6 Notre Dame (16-3, 4-1) vs. Boston College (8-10, 1-4).

WHERE: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hills, Mass.

WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.

INTERNET: Game can be seen online at WatchESPN.com (formerly ESPN 3) or through the WatchESPN app.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend

TELEVISION: None

GAME NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series with Boston College 18-5 ... Despite being outrebounded by Tennessee, the Irish still are at a +9.2 rebounding advantage for the season. Notre Dame is shooting only .693 from the free throw line ... Sophomore Arike Ogunbowale continues to be Notre Dame’s leading scorer at 15.1 points a game. Brianna Turner and Marina Mabrey are at 14.0 and 12.7 respectively ... Senior Lindsay Allen has 696 career assists. Only three Irish players are over the 700 assist mark. They are Mary Gavin (778), Skylar Diggins (745) and Niele Ivey (727) ... Boston College is coached by Erik Johnson, in his fourth season with the Eagles. Boston’s College’s leading scorers are 6-foo-4 sophomore Mariella Fasoula at 16.2 points (and 7.4 rebounds a game) and 5-11 senior Kelly Hughes at 12.7 points.