Irish more than up for the UConn challenge.
TAMPA: Score and then score some more and if you’re not sure, score just a little bit more.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team understands that trying to hold their opponent in the National Championship game, the UConn Huskies, down on the scoreboard is probably a recipe for disaster.
To that end, the Huskies run into a team that, similar to themselves, can put up points with four players averaging double-digit points on a nightly basis.
Led by a player some thought might have been the Player of the Year in Jewell Loyd (20.0 ppg), Notre Dame is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone they take on.
Loyd needs 17 points in the final to become the all-time single season scoring leader in school history and the junior guard is one of the on court coaches that keeps the offensive engine running to the tune of 80.6 points per game.
UConn comes in averaging 89.9 points per game so both teams can keep the scorebooks humming and look to do so again on Tuesday night.
After Loyd, freshman Brianna Turner, who missed the team’s first meeting back in December, is averaging 13.8 points per game and is leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. Sophomores Taya Reimer (10.3) and Lindsay Allen (10.5) round out an impressive four of five starters for head coach Muffet McGraw.
Turner could play a big role on Tuesday night, her effort against South Carolina (17 points, eight rebounds) was a big reason the Irish built an early 12 point lead over the Gamecocks in the first 10 minutes of the semi-final game.’
South Carolina would come back with a vengeance and even take a brief lead with 1:09 to play in the game but senior guard Madison Cable scored off a missed shot with 13.9 seconds to go to move the Irish along.
Notre Dame comes into this game in a position they have not faced at all this year, that of underdog but the prospects of being in that spot is being embraced by the coaches and players.
“I love being the underdog,” McGraw said, “Always have. I think it’s a great position to be in. The pressure is not on us; it’s on UConn. We can go out, relax, and play our game. Nobody expects us to win, nobody’s picked us to win. So we can really have a very loose attitude going into the game in terms of being relaxed.”
A year ago, the Irish seemed to come in tight, play tight and it showed on the court. Not this year, you can sense the relaxed mood that is coming from the players and their head coach.
Remember, a year ago it was Muffet that stirred the pot a bit with her comments that were somewhat icy and it appeared to translate down to her players.
With all that Notre Dame lost from a year ago, this year’s team did not have the burden of being one of the favorites, they were not coming in as one of two undefeated programs on a collision course at the national championship game.
Their leading scorer spoke of the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the team.
“We like to have fun,” the junior star said, “I think we play our best game when we’re loose and we’re smiling and having fun. That’s how you play when you’re at the parks with your friends, you’re smiling, enjoying the game, enjoying the moment. We’re definitely just excited to be here.”
All indications point towards a game that will depend upon which team can counter act what the other does so well.
Every team that plays UConn is acutely aware of the tipping point that comes most games when the game is in the balance right before the Huskies make one of their vaunted runs.
Leads can go from 10-30 in a big hurry unless teams find a way to slow down the onslaught.
Loyd is aware of this fact and feels her team will be able to answer the challenge.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Loyd said, “It comes down to who wants it more. The 50-50 balls, rebounding. I’m playing with passion and that’s what you’re going to see tomorrow night.”
So, they will lace them up one more time on Tuesday night at 8:45 with the biggest prize on the line.
Heavy weight women’s basketball with the two strongest teams in the ring.