Lesar: Glass is half-full for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

LEXINGTON, Ky. — For all the fussing she’s done over the course of the women’s basketball season at Notre Dame, it was obvious Friday night coach Muffet McGraw’s regulation NCAA paper cup was half-full.

Even with a lineup some may have considered half-empty.

Who needs a post? Certainly not the top-seeded Irish Friday night in their 99-76 Sweet 16 thumping of No. 5 seed Ohio State.

Heck, if McGraw does that to a family friend and former assistant (Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff), what’s she got in store for Sunday’s Elite Eight game against 2 seed Stanford (31-5) at noon?

A little moping or self-pity by the Irish (33-3), considering last Sunday’s loss of 6-foot-3 post Brianna Turner to a knee injury, might have been understandable.

But it certainly wouldn’t have been tolerated.

“The wind got knocked out of us,” McGraw said. “We’ve been down; hurtin’. It’s so great to come through like this.”

McGraw abandoned the conventional use of a low-post presence, which usually was Turner, and turned loose a perimeter gang that, in the right circumstances, can be deadly. Six in double figures – led by 32 from Arike Ogunbowale – caused havoc for the Buckeyes (28-7).

Certainly the right circumstances.

“We were trying to work on the mismatches,” said McGraw. “When the little guys guarded our big guys, we tried to go inside. When their big guys tried to guard our guards, we tried to get them off the dribble. We had some real good poise in handling that.”

Kept ‘em guessing all night.

Beyond the final score, Notre Dame put up some impressive numbers.

• The Irish outrebounded Ohio State, 42-30.

• Notre Dame led in points in the paint, 38-34.

• The Irish missed eight layups and still won by 23. Of course, hitting 19 of 20 free throws didn’t hurt.

• Ohio State made 10 baskets that Turner would have normally contested.

• Buckeye standout guard Kelsey Mitchell (22.7 ppg) had 12 points at halftime and didn’t score again until 5:24 was left in the game.

• At one point from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the second quarter, Notre Dame hit 13 consecutive shots. The Irish went almost 11 minutes from one miss to the next miss – that’s the equivalent of more than an entire quarter.

Yeah, it was that dominant.

It didn’t get that way by accident. This was the culmination of a process that started Tuesday in practice.

Notre Dame’s Chinese fire drill of an offense in the second half of the overtime victory over Purdue was a disaster. McGraw tore everything down, and, in three days, built it back up again.

“If (an opponent) tries to put a post player on one of our guards, that’s a mismatch,” said senior point guard and orchestrator Lindsay Allen.

Allen had 16 points, but her biggest contribution was 10 assists. She played the game like a football quarterback in a no-huddle, passing offense. Read the key, usually the safety, then adjust accordingly.

Allen said, in this case, the key was Mitchell. Apparently, she was the Buckeye defender that was most respected.

“If Mitchell’s guarding Jackie (Young), we run this,” Allen said. “If she’s guarding (Ogunbowale), then we run this. It just went back and forth. We could run the same play five times in a row (but it could look different each time).”

Besides creating mismatches, what Turner’s absence meant on the floor was some cleaned-up clutter in the lane. Usually, big bodies coagulate the middle, trying to discourage Turner from getting a lob. Friday, there was room to roam down low – especially when the Irish can hit 12 of 24 from 3-point range.

“There wasn’t a big learning curve,” Allen said of the preparation. “Coach made sure the guards are still playing their game. We were just looking for our shot more, and looking for each other; driving and kicking; making the extra passes …

“We’re talking to each other more. We’re aware of mismatches more. We were playing more loosely and playing more freely. There was no pressure on us at all.”

An entire team with a glass half-full.

That’s how champions chug some success.

Notre Dame's Kathryn Westbeld (33) is pressured by Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell (3) during a regional semifinal in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/James Crisp)