Lesar: Lindsay Allen lights the fuse for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Forty seconds of intensity lit a fuse the Notre Dame women’s basketball team has been trying to ignite for most of the season.

It was enough to point the Irish toward a 62-58 victory over Duke Thursday night.

The score was tied at 46 and the final seconds of the third quarter were ticking away. Duke had the ball. A problem all night for Notre Dame’s defense was trying to contain Duke guard Lexie Brown (22 points, 4 assists). For the most part it was Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young tag-teaming on her. Just about every time Brown would score, a frustrated Irish coach Muffet McGraw would apply the hook and make the switch.

“Our plan was to faceguard, not let her get the ball,” said McGraw. “We couldn’t find anyone to do that until Lindsay guarded her (late in the third quarter). When Lindsay guarded her, we thought (the others) would see how to do it. But, they didn’t.”

The stretch was brief – but effective. In those final 40 seconds, Allen was all over Brown. In her face. Like she was posting up beyond the arc.

It was stifling.

The intense pressure yielded a turnover when Allen swiped an errant pass. It was converted into two points when Marina Mabrey hit a jumper. More defensive pressure caused a Duke miss and, subsequently, a layup by Brianna Turner that gave the Irish a four-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes.

It was a lead the Irish never lost.

“In that moment, coach called my number,” said Allen. “My job was to deny her the ball. We put the pressure on and were hoping that they’d throw a bad pass.”

“Being aggressive like she was, and doing all that she did – even though (Notre Dame) was trying to stop her like they did – she was still very productive,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of her star, who transferred in from Maryland. “There’s no doubt Lexie is going to draw a lot of different defenders. I’m proud of what she did.”

“I tried to play a little too fast (during the sequence with Allen),” Brown said. “She did a good job. She was literally under me.”

Once taking the low road, Allen came up with the ball and turned around the game.

Before the game started, McGraw toyed with the idea of using Allen on Brown the whole way. Circumstances didn’t let that play out.

“She got a quick foul,” McGraw said of her point guard. “If (Allen) didn’t have any fouls, we have her guard (Brown). Since she had the foul, we decided to wait until the fourth quarter.”

Allen was more valuable handling and distributing the ball. Until a few hiccups in the last minute – turnovers that allowed the Blue Devils to close from nine points down to four – Allen was solid; and at times, dynamic.

She finished with just two points, but had 12 assists, two steals and just two turnovers to make for quite a night.

Duke spent the entire night pressuring Allen the entire length of the floor, a tactic that didn’t cause much of a problem for Allen or the Irish.

“(Allen’s) a great player,” said McCallie. “She does a lot for them. (The pressure was) just to make her work with the ball; not making it easy to see the floor. She has 12 assists, that says a lot.”

“Actually, I kind of enjoy it,” Allen said of the pressure. “I don’t think it takes too much of a physical toll. Whenever they press us, it’s good for us.”

So is that burst of intensity on the defensive end.

It’s a fire that’s been snuffed for the most part until now.

Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen (15) shoots past Duke’s Kyra Lambert (15) during the Duke at Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA