By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Notre Dame’s eighth-ranked women’s basketball hit more layups during the game than they did in the pre-game layup lines as they sent West Virginia reeling to a damaging defeat, 72-60, before 2,593 fans at the Coliseum.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s team spent most of the night sneaking in the back door or going into their post for point-blank shots while West Virginia University coach Mike Carey was frustrated in his attempts to stop it.
It wasn’t that the Mountaineers didn’t know what was happening as they lost their sixth game in the last eight. It wasn’t even that they didn’t know how to stop it.
They just completely froze in their attempts to do so.
“I put Taylor Palmer in and I told her, ‘They’re gonna backdoor out of the corner.’ Guess what, first play, they backdoored her from the corner,” Carey said.
They did it then and again and again and again.
For the night Notre Dame shot 27 layups and made 22 of them.
“It was layup city for them,” said Mountaineer forward Madina Ali, who scored 12 points but could play only 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
Now let us not just blame the West Virginia defense, for the back doors were open because of their aggressiveness and when you consider they turned the ball over 30 times on Notre Dame including 16 steals, you know that it wasn’t completely what you’d call a dreadful performance.
Not hardly, for the biggest problem was a West Virginia offense that was laughingly miserable.
In truth, WVU shot only one fewer layup than Notre Dame – 26. They made nine fewer, 13. That means they missed 13 layups in the game, some of them almost hilarious to look at in that they landed further away from the rim than they were launched from, many of them not even bothering to hit the rim.
“We got beat by 12 and missed how many point-blank shots?” Carey said.
The post people for WVU were particular bad, Asya Bussie and Ayana Dunning turning the ball over 10 times without an assist. Three times, if you can believe this, they made passes out of the
post that sailed over the head of a teammate and out of bounds on the fly … one nearly making it all the way into the seats.
Toss in a 3-for-15 shooting night from the normally reliable Liz Repella, who netted 24 points the last time these two teams played but only eight in this game, and you have a disaster.
Notre Dame coach McGraw is not in the College Basketball Hall of Fame for nothing. She devised a really strong game plan around the backdoor cuts.
“They overplay things,” she said. “They are a very aggressive defense, and it’s hard to run your offense, so we had to change some things to take advantage of that.”
The change allowed Devereaux Peters to cut constantly from the corner to get layups and finish with 16 points and for forward Becca Bruszewski to hit five of eight shots for 10 points, most of them as easy as the uncontested layup that was put in by a young competitor during the halftime shootout, winning a year’s supply of pizza.
There were a few telling moments in the game, not the least of which was when Ali went to the bench early in the first half.
“She’s our best rebounder. She’s sets the best screens. She’s our most physical player. But she gets so psyched up that she does some dumb things. She’s got to be smarter.”
“I’ve got to be smart. I’ve got to know if I get one early foul, like I did tonight, I can’t make a second stupid one,” Ali said.
With Ali out, Notre Dame could even overcome foul trouble for Peters and its star, Skylar Diggins, in the first half because Natalie Novosel took control. The first Kentucky native to play at Notre Dame, the lady they call “Nasty” was as she scored 22 points, including eight of Notre Dame’s last 10 points in the first half.
In the second half, taking advantage of a few of what McGraw called an “embarrassing number” of turnovers, WVU cut the deficit to nine but never could get any closer as Diggins and Peters took control of things.
WVU now stands at 21-7 and 7-7 in the Big East with two games remaining to make their case for the NCAA Tournament.
“Time is running out,” admitted Sarah Miles, who led WVU with 16 points and also had five assists and six steals. “We’re playing to win a national championship, not to get to the WNIT. I refuse to go to the WNIT my senior year.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.