Defense missing down the stretch for Notre Dame in loss to Minnesota

Anthony Anderson Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — With ferociously rallying Notre Dame conjuring up visions of its record-setting comeback against Tennessee just two years ago, Minnesota abruptly interrupted and uncoiled what may have been an unofficial record in terms of a response to coughing up an 18-point lead.

The Golden Gophers scored on nine consecutive possessions off the immediate heels of falling behind at 5:33 left, going on to nab a 75-67 women’s basketball victory over the Irish on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.

“I don’t have an answer for it, don’t know why, (but) we just completely stopped playing defense after we took the lead,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.

“We don’t have any pride in our defense at all,” McGraw lamented. “That’s something I can’t really teach. We’re just gonna keep working at it.”

“She’s telling you the truth,” freshman Sam Brunelle said when McGraw’s comment about pride was shared with her. “We just need to get better, and want to be better at it.”

Minnesota (6-1), coming off eight days between games and playing on the road for the first time this season, won its sixth straight game. The Irish (5-5) fell to their lowest mark through 10 games or more into a season since likewise standing 5-5 in 2001.

Brunelle’s layup at 5:33 remaining put ND ahead 57-56. The Irish had trailed 33-15 in the second quarter, similar to their 37-14 second-period deficit against Tennessee in ultimately an 84-70 win two seasons ago.

If Notre Dame could’ve closed out this comeback as well, it would’ve tied the second-greatest in program history. The Gophers, though, were having none of it.

Seemingly unfazed, they hit six of their next seven shots after calling a timeout following Brunelle’s bucket, and got a second-chance basket on the only one they missed.

“I said this is what we came here for,” Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen shared of what she told her team during the timeout. “No matter what had happened (in losing the large lead), we were here to be (within one possession at) five minutes to go in a game with them.”

Added Whalen, “Our kids were just tremendous that last five minutes.”

“I think it’s mostly just being mentally tough,” Brunelle said of what went wrong for ND in the final five minutes, “like coming out of that timeout mentally where we were when it was called.”

Junior guard Gadiva Hubbard, on her way to a game-high 20 points and three steals, scored eight during the Gophers’ post-timeout spree, including a pair of 3-pointers.

“We came all the way back, then couldn’t seem to find 34 (Hubbard) in our zone, and it was not that difficult,” McGraw said. “We need to be smarter. We cannot remember who we’re supposed to guard. Really disappointed, really disappointed, in just the overall lack of awareness of where the shooters were.”

A Destiny Pitts 3-pointer made it six straight possessions for Minnesota with a field goal, giving the visitors a 72-61 lead at 1:55 to go, and then they hit 1-of-2 free throws each of the next three times they had the ball.

Senior forward Taiye Bello finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots for the winners. Pitts added 14 points, and Jasmine Brunson scored 13 and dealt six assists.

Brunelle paced the Irish with 19 points. Katlyn Gilbert had all of her 15 in the second half, Destinee Walker netted 12 and Marta Sniezek tallied 10 to go with a game-high eight assists.

Freshman Anaya Peoples hauled in a career-high 14 rebounds to go with nine points.

The Gophers finished with a whopping advantage in 3-pointers, draining 12-of-32 to Notre Dame’s 1-of-8.

“I’d like to guard the 3-point line,” McGraw said. “That’s kind of been my goal all along, but even when we went man-to-man, they came down and shot right in our face.”

McGraw said her team played “scared and wouldn’t attack” much of the time while falling into its huge first-half hole, which included a 33-21 count at the break. The Irish also trailed by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter and were still down 51-38 with under three minutes to go in the period before surging with a 19-5 run over the next 6:35 for their 57-56 lead.

With its fifth defeat, Notre Dame already has lost more games than it did in any of the last eight seasons, when its worst record was 33-4. With their third home loss, the Irish already have fallen more times at Purcell than they did over the previous six seasons combined, when they went 116-3.

“Every single game we’ve played, we could’ve won, hands down,” Brunelle said. “We’ve had opportunities in every game to win those games.”

Minnesota improved to 3-0 all-time against Notre Dame in the first matchup between the teams in over 10 years — the other two came in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — while the Irish lost for the first time in their seven annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge games.

Next up for ND is a 4 p.m. matchup Sunday at No. 4 Connecticut (6-0) for the Jimmy V Classic.

Notre Dame’s Kaitlin Cole (2) fights for a rebound with Minnesota’s Jasmine Brunson (21) during Wednesday’s game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Marta Sniezek (13) gets fouled by Minnesota’s Taiye Bello (5) as Gadiva Hubbard (34) defends during Wednesday’s game at Purcell Pavilion.