Lesar: Without Turner, Notre Dame women would be wise to mimic Irish men

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – If Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw needs a plan to deal with adversity, all she has to do is walk down the hall from her Joyce Center office.

Irish men’s coach Mike Brey has the blueprint. And it could be applied to the women’s Lexington Regional game with Ohio State (7 p.m.) Friday.

McGraw’s adversity stems from Tuesday’s announcement that 6-foot-3 All-American post Brianna Turner will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in her left knee that was sustained late in the first half of the 88-82 overtime win over Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The performance minus Turner was less than impressive. The Irish had a comfortable 12-point lead at halftime (even after missing six first-quarter layups), then ran a Chinese fire drill for an offense in chunks of the second half.

Functioning without Turner was certainly not the norm. Notre Dame’s inside-first offense doesn’t work when there’s not a star inside.

That’s where Brey comes in.

He’s the self-proclaimed “loosest coach in America.” He doesn’t hesitate to go out of the box when it comes to his team. And man, did the Irish men need some unique thinking this season.

Mired in a four-game losing streak, something had to give. Either Brey and his players were going to go down in flames, steadfastly clinging to what common sense said his lineup should be; or, he was going to travel a different path.

Without hesitation, the loosest coach in America – not surprisingly – chose unique. That meant significantly scaling down the minutes for 6-10 Martin Geben, in favor of 6-6 Rex Pflueger.

He put his five best players on the floor.

Guess what? It worked. The Irish pulled out of their tailspin and gave some pretty good teams trouble before finally being eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by West Virginia.

Given that example, McGraw and her staff have their options: Slide Kristina Nelson into Turner’s spot and hope for the best with business as usual; or, commit to putting their five best players on the floor by inserting 6-0 freshman Jackie Young on the floor in Turner’s spot.

This is Young’s opportunity to shine. Rumblings out of practice are that there are times she is impossible to stop; a scoring machine that can excel in other areas.

Those practice praises didn’t translate into the tourney opener against Robert Morris. Young managed just four points (1 of 6 shooting), and her nine rebounds didn’t lessen the sting of four turnovers.

Young was a whole lot better against Purdue, collecting 16 points (7 of 9 shooting), six rebounds and four assists, committing just two turnovers.

The Irish women won’t have a Bonzie Colson to run wild and let his athleticism do its thing, but they still have a lineup loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans, all of whom are capable of scoring.

Move the focus to the perimeter, then crash the boards whenever necessary.

Turning this situation into a positive, McGraw has three days to reinvent her team, should she so choose. Working in her favor is that this is Notre Dame, allegedly a place where even the athletes are brighter than most places.

Look down the roster, can’t find many dim bulbs.

If McGraw can pull this off, every future opponent – even Ohio State, coached my McGraw’s former assistant Kevin McGuff – will be back to the drawing board when it comes to game film. Nobody will know what to expect.

It’s called making lemonade out of lemons. Or, chicken salad out of …

You get the idea.

Time for McGraw to go out of the box.

Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) shoots past Robert Morris’ Megan Smith (22) during the Notre Dame vs. Robert Morris NCAA Division 1 tournament game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend Friday, March 17, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA