Lesar: Brianna Turner adds needed physicality to her game for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Adding another dimension to Brianna Turner’s game came with a bunch of bruises.

The slender 6-foot-3 junior post for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team made up her mind the best approach was to toughen up.

Turner’s metamorphosis happened 27½ games into this season. She was good, but hardly the dominant inside presence someone with her size and athletic ability could be. At the same time, the Irish were struggling in trying to assert themselves among the nation’s elite.

Halfway through its 28th game at Syracuse, Notre Dame trailed at halftime, 43-35. Turner had a solid, but unspectacular 12 points, three rebounds and one block.

That’s when Turner found a second gear.

She finished that game in the Carrier Dome with 31 points, nine boards and three blocks to rally the Irish to an 85-80 victory. It was the start of a six-game run – carrying Notre Dame into its NCAA Tournament date with Robert Morris Friday night (7:30 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion) – in which Turner has averaged 19.5 points (about 4 points better than her season norm of 15.6) and has gotten her team playing like a No. 1 seed.

“She’s looking for the ball more; she’s wanting to score more,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. She’s exploring different ways to score.

“Once we’ve been able to get the ball to Bri, she’s made it look so easy.

“The Syracuse game was the springboard that got her going. We went into her for about every possession.”

“I’m being more aggressive off the screen,” said Turner. “I’m looking for the post-up more. Earlier in the season, I was shying away from that.

“I don’t know if I really notice (the more dominant play) in the moment, but going back and watching you can see it’s different now than it was earlier in the season.”

“It’s a mindset that (Turner) has developed,” said Carol Owens, the Irish assistant in charge of post play. “She has developed. With every player, it’s different timing when it comes along. You can see the confidence in her, and how she wants to please her teammates. She knows she’s an important factor in our success.

“Once you embrace that, it’s unlimited potential in what she has. For post players, it’s more a matter of overcoming the psychological part than the physical part, because you always know you’ll have that.

“When we were down (at halftime) at Syracuse, you could tell she wanted the ball. Once we got into the ACC Tournament, I didn’t think there was anybody there who could guard her. You want to get to that point.”

Besides the post moves that set up the “easy looking” alley-oops, Turner has made progress in other areas of her game. She has been catching the ball better, which comes with confidence and not worrying about the physical punishment that will follow. She’s also allowing herself to believe in the jumper from the free throw line that has been itching to become an integral part of her game.

“She actually does have a jumper,” said Owens. “‘Use that athletic ability to rise over people when you take that shot.’ Her turnaround jump shot is coming along really nice. She’s been hesitant (to shoot it), for whatever reason.”

Owens said teams are guarding her more at the free throw line because of that jumper, in turn conceding the lob down low. Too much of a concentration on Turner, and the Irish weapons on the perimeter have room to roam.

“It’s kind of a pick your poison situation,” said Owens.

“I definitely feel that it has been more physical lately,” said Turner. “It’s opening up our outside (shooting) as well. Marina (Mabrey) and (Arike Ogunbowale) and the others are getting some open 3s. We’ve been going inside-out a lot.”

Turner’s progress has done wonders for the resurgence of the Notre Dame hopes. Billed as the best in the country to start the season, three relatively early losses changed the impression. Add to that last season’s early dismissal from the NCAA Tournament and the frustration was mounting.

That’s what made the recent turnaround so critical, and why the Irish have their sights set on winning a national title April 2.

“The Florida State game was a statement game for us,” Turner said. “That was our chance to win the (Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship). Being able to dominate was something we were able to take into the ACC Tournament.

“Going forward, we have a maximum of six games and a minimum of one. We have to take each game one at a time. We have to work hard. Every game could be our last.

“Nothing’s guaranteed. You never know when your time is going to come.”

That new dimension could prolong the season.

Turner’s ready to be physical into April.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (11) has taken her physicality to another level just in time for postseason play. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)