Notre Dame center Brianna Turner to miss upcoming season, return in 2018-19

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brianna Turner’s ACL tear during the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tourney run last spring prompted the Irish to reinvent themselves.

The reinvention will have to continue this season.

ND head coach Muffet McGraw said Tuesday that her senior All-America center has elected to sit out the coming season but has firm plans to play for the Irish in 2018-19 as a grad student.

“We discussed the situation with Bri, and we discussed it with her parents,” McGraw said. “And we all agree it’s in her best interests for her to sit out the year. So she’ll continue rehabbing, but she won’t be playing.”

McGraw added that the prognosis that Turner wouldn’t be 100 percent until January factored heavily into the decision.

The 6-3 Turner (15.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) suffered an ACL tear to her left knee on March 29 during a second-round NCAA Tourney win over Purdue (88-82 OT) and underwent surgery on April 12. But where Notre Dame missed the ACC’s leading shot blocker (2.46 bpg) the most over the balance of the tournament was on defense.

The Irish, the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Regional, recast themselves as a small-ball team, and trounced a size-gifted Ohio State squad in the Sweet 16 (99-76) before falling to two seed Stanford, 76-75, with a Final Four berth on the line.

ND allowed more than 75 points only five times during the 2017 season, but three of those came in the two games Turner missed and the one in which she was injured.

With Turner not available this season, repeating and refining the small-ball approach is one option. Another might be plugging 6-foot-4 Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard into the lineup.

That option is now in the NCAA’s hands.

McGraw said the Irish filed paperwork on Friday for a hardship waiver for immediate eligibility for Shepard, a junior with two seasons to play for ND. As it stands, the former national Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore at Nebraska must sit out the coming season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

“We should know in a week or two,” McGraw said of her expectation of a timetable for a decision.

Whether Shepard sits out or not, she and good friend Turner will have a chance to match their complementary post skills in 2018-19 for the Irish.

“Jessica is a different kind of player than we’ve ever had,” McGraw said last month. “She’s a big kid but shoots 3s and is a great passer. She’s going to be so good in our offense, because the high-post passing skills she has are phenomenal.”

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner is helped off the court by team trainers after injuring her knee during an NCAA Tourney game against Purdue last March. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)