Notre Dame Rallies To Defeat Toledo, 54-51
For the first time in 234 college basketball weeks — dating back to March 2007 —head coach Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame basketball program played a game unranked.
The 54-51 victory versus Toledo on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion won’t by itself get the Fighting Irish (3-2) back into the top 25 next week, but each win is cherished a little more now after having dropped back-to-back decisions last week for the first time since January 2010.
After an early 4-0 advantage, Notre Dame trailed at the end of the first quarter 18-10 while converting only 5 of its 20 field goal attempts.
Toledo built its lead to as much as nine points in the second quarter (31-22) before freshman forward Sam Brunelle (19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks), sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert (11 points, eight rebounds, three steals) and a collective defensive effort rallied the Irish to victory.
A 10-foot jumper by Gilbert finally put Notre Dame ahead for good at 47-46, followed by a backdoor cut to the basket and reverse lay-up by graduate student Destinee Walker (12 points, six rebounds, two assists) to make it 49-46 with 4:26, prompting a Toledo timeout. A couple of Brunelle free throws gave the Irish their largest lead at 51-46, which would be matched at 54-49
Toledo played at a slow pace, and as the shot clock wound down Notre Dame ratcheted up its defensive pressure, forcing three shot-clock violations in the fourth quarter and four overall in the second half.
A drive and then step-back bucket by Walker kept the Rockets at bay at 54-51, but they had a final chance to force overtime, gaining possession with 9.8 seconds left and down 54-51.
The Irish defensive pressure responded again, with Brunelle stepping out quickly toward the three-point arc to force a travel by Toledo guard Mariella Santucci, who was trying to find an opening for a trey.
“We found a way to make it interesting,” McGraw said. “I think every game is going to be pretty much like that. We look young and completely inexperienced often.
“Katlyn Gilbert just did so many great things. She defensively came up with some big steals, big plays, big rebounds, made some huge shots. And Sam, to get her first double-double — one of many that are going to follow.
“She made some huge shots also, but the rebounding is what was key. That’s how we won the game at the end.”
1. Sam Brunelle Star Power Coming To Forefront
The basketball plate is overflowing for the 6-2 freshman while playing out of position at center — but there is no choice right now for this team. Unlike previous freshman standouts such as Skylar Diggins, Jewel Loyd, Brianna Turner and Arike Ogunbowale, among others — she is being called on not to merely complement the established, veteran stars. She has to be the standout now, ready or not.
That is the price of burgeoning greatness, which is clear that she possesses. There will be plenty more setbacks tasted by her and the Irish this season, but it will make her/them all the more lethal in the future.
2. No Rest For The Weary
Notre Dame's 12-game non-conference slate that runs through Dec. 11 has four of the next seven opponents ranked, beginning with a challenging outing Saturday afternoon at No. 21 Michigan (4-0).
At the Cancun Challenge (Nov. 28-30) over Thanksgiving break, Notre Dame will face No. 22 South Florida on the final day, and the day prior face a South Dakota State team program that has become a tough out and has also received Top 25 votes. With the depth issues the Irish have, three games in three days could take a toll.
Come December, Minnesota (Dec. 4) had been ranked in the preseason, and then the game at No. 4 UConn (Dec. 8) followed by at home versus No. 19 DePaul (Dec. 11) provides a slate where coming out of it 6-6 would be laudable and 7-5 exceptional before beginning league play.
3. Fifth Option?
Graduate student and starting point guard Marta Sniezek's value is not going to be measured in points scored. Through 176 minutes in five games she has attempted only 11 field goals (converting one), which might be some type of unofficial record for the Irish.
Her role is clear: distribute on offense while leading the attack with four able scorers around her, and then applying ball pressure/toughness at the top of the zone.
At some point, though, she will have to be called upon to become someone a defense must honor to some degree, otherwise scoring for everyone else could become more strenuous.