Amazing late-game karma and execution has followed Notre Dame’s No. 15 men’s basketball team during a 5-0 run in the Atlantic Coast Conference since Dec. 31, but a late collapse occurred for the No. 6-ranked Fighting Irish women on Monday night.
By finishing the game on a 23-7 run, unranked but highly talented Tennessee (11-6 overall, 2-2 in SEC) rallied to knock off Notre Dame (16-3 overall, 4-1 in ACC) in Knoxville, 71-69.
The Lady Vols — who had lost six straight to the Fighting Irish since March 30, 2011 — opened on a tear by taking an 11-2 lead before Notre Dame gained control with a 25-18 advantage at the end of the first quarter. It extended the lead to 44-31 by halftime, was up by as many as 15, and held a 62-48 cushion in the closing minute of the third quarter prior to the rally.
Notre Dame tallied a paltry seven points in the fourth quarter on 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) field goal shooting. Through the first three quarters the Irish were an impressive 26 of 46 from the floor (56.5 percent), including converting all four three-point attempts in the first half.
A three by sophomore guard Marina Mabrey ended a 12-0 run by Tennessee and extended the Irish lead to 65-60, but the Vols went to a taller lineup and continued to chip away before finally taking the lead 69-67 on a MeMe Jackson three-pointer with 1:22 left.
Irish senior point guard Lindsay Allen, who recorded a game-high 10 assists, responded with a drive and short jumper to knot the contest at 69, but the game winner came with 10.3 seconds left on a 15-foot jumper by Jaime Nared, who came open after a screen on sophomore Arike Ogunbowale. Because Tennessee had only one foul at that point in the fourth quarter, it had three to give and fouled Allen three times to milk the clock down to 4.2 seconds. Allen was then unable to get loose off a screen and forced a three from just beyond the top of the key that failed to hit the rim as time expired.
“We were outrebounding them in the first half, but in the second half we could not get a rebound, especially at the offensive end,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We were disappointed in our effort defensively, and our inability to guard the ball screen really killed us down the stretch.
“We talked about it, but we weren’t able to guard them in the ball screen. We just made a lot of mistakes. To their credit, they took advantage of all of the mistakes we made.”
Mabrey paced the Irish with 17 points, highlighted by a 3-of-5 effort beyond the arc. Classmate Ogunbowale had 14, while junior forward Brianna Turner (5-of-12 shooting) and Jackie Young (4-of-4 from the floor) had 10 points apiece.
The Irish play at Boston College on Thursday and then at North Carolina on Sunday (on ESPNU).
1. Individual Talent Vs. Team Cohesion — With a national high eight McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster, preseason No. 1 Notre Dame might be considered the program that is currently lacking team chemistry, leadership and urgency.
With No. 15 Duke (Jan. 26), No. 9 Louisville (Feb. 6) and No. 7 Florida State (Feb. 26) all at home this year, the Irish still remain the team to beat for the ACC crown, but defensively and in terms of killer instinct, this edition is not playing collectively to its talent and will need to battle to keep a 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Getting to a No. 1 seed likely will require running the table, but far more important is finding consistent intensity and flow on both ends of the court.
2. Twin Towers — While guard Diamond DeShields (20 points) propelled Tennessee’s late run, the inside tandem of 6-6 Mercedes Russell and 6-3 Schaquilla Nunn made a huge difference on the boards in the fourth quarter. A particularly crucial sequence came when Nunn made consecutive lay-ins off offensive rebounds (where Tennessee had a 14-9 advantage) to pull within 65-64.
Turner can’t do it all by herself on the inside, and that would especially be true versus much taller teams such as Baylor and South Carolina, should they meet later.
3. Young Continuing Progress — A bright spot continues to be the emergence of the freshman Young, who has averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game off the bench the past three games while rounding back to health. Three of her five rebounds versus Tennessee came on offense, while also converting all her shots from the field.
She is on the threshold of becoming the “sixth starter.”
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