The No. 2-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball program’s worst fears were realized when it was announced Tuesday that 6-3 junior forward Brianna Turner would miss the remainder of this season with an ACL tear she incurred in her left knee with 48 seconds left in the first half of Sunday night’s 88-82 overtime victory versus No. 9 seed Purdue.
The Irish return to action at 7 p.m. Friday night in the Sweet 16 when they face No. 5 seed Ohio State at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. ESPN will televise the contest.
One of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award that honors the nation’s best player, Turner was Notre Dame’s leading scorer (15.3 points per game), rebounder (7.1 per game) and shot blocker (86) — and she altered at least twice or three times as many more with her range and quickness down low.
On offense, Notre Dame’s bread and butter was her high ball screens that also often led to layups or alley-oops off the pick-and-roll. Her absence was even more conspicuous on defense when Purdue became much more effective inside and on drives without Turner cutting them off in rotation.
Notre Dame took control of the game in the first half while the Boilermakers shot only 13 of 32 (40.6 percent) from the field with Turner in the lineup.
Without Turner in the second half, Purdue was 15 of 28 (53.6 percent). Just as significant, the Irish fouled 13 times in the second half sans Turner (including junior forward Kathryn Westbeld fouling out) after having committed only five fouls in the first half. The Boilermakers took advantage by converting 12 of 14 free throws in the second half.
“We wanted to get inside originally, but she made it a lot harder to get inside,” Purdue senior forward Bridget Perry said of Turner.
“With our shot blocker not in the game, it changes our defense,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
This isn’t the first time Notre Dame will face Ohio State without Turner. In a 75-72 Irish victory on Dec. 2, 2015, McGraw’s squad was without both Turner (shoulder injury) and starting forward Taya Reimer (foot injury), but managed to prevail with fifth-year senior Madison Cable scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, while current senior point guard Lindsay Allen tallied 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. In addition, Westbeld contributed 14 points and six boards.
Unfortunately, this also isn’t the first time Notre Dame has had a devastating knee injury to the star post player during the NCAA Tournament. In the Elite Eight victory versus Baylor in 2014, senior Natalie Achonwa, the No. 9 pick in the WNBA Draft, also tore her ACL late in the contest that sidelined her nearly a year. The 36-0 Irish managed to regroup well in the Final Four by opening with an 87-61 drubbing of Maryland, but in the championship game they were handled by Connecticut, 79-58.
Adding to the degree of difficulty this year is the second-best front-court player, Westbeld, has been battling an ankle injury since mid-January that has prevented her from practicing. She sat out the opening NCAA Tournament game against Robert Morris last Friday, but started against Purdue.
Westbeld has been effective as a high-post player, and it is likely the Irish will have to engage in a “small ball” lineup with a four-guard look around Westbeld and maybe 6-2 freshman Erin Boley. Allen, sophomore guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale, and freshman guard Jackie Young combined for 67 points against Purdue. Ogunbowale was used fairly effectively late in the game in the low post when the Boilermakers heavily concentrated on extending their defense out more toward the perimeter.
Senior 6-4 reserve Kristina Nelson has appeared in 32 of the team’s 35 games this year, and averaged 3.7 points and 3.0 rebounds. However, in the final six ACC contests, she did not play in three of them, and saw less than a minute of action in a fourth.
• Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Like us on Facebook