Plan B ends Irish season
Early foul trouble puts Notre Dame in inescapable hole
With a minute left in the Tuesday's national championship game, the Lady Bears had rocked the fight out of the Irish. With a 22-point lead locked in place, it was time for both teams to empty their bench and make sure the seniors had a chance to touch the floor at the national championship.
Going into the game, Notre Dame was well aware of the mountain in front of it. To have any chance at killing a record-setting 40-0 season for Baylor, the Fighting Irish needed a good game from their core, especially the pace-setting group of seniors that have been a steady and dependable force all season.
Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen.
Fifth-year senior Devereaux Peters stayed in foul trouble throughout the game trying to contain an unstoppable 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner. With Peters as such a huge part of the gameplan in shutting down Griner, it forced Notre Dame into Plan B.
“And the second half, when we got into the foul trouble that destroyed our gameplan,” head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We really needed Devereaux. She was a big part of the plan. And we didn’t have her.”
One glaring difference on Tuesday’s stat sheet compared to Sunday’s was the contributions of senior guard Natalie Novosel, or lack thereof. She couldn’t break the ice in the national championship game, going 0-11 from the field with her five points coming from the free-throw line.
Junior All-American Skylar Diggins was able to help Notre Dame make a dent in the Lady Baylor lead, but it was just never enough. She needed the key personnel that she’s so used to having on the hardwood stepping up with her.
“I don’t think we were taking the shots we had,” Diggins said. “And when we were, we weren’t shooting it confidently. And so that dug us in a hole a little bit. So we were chasing, chasing. I think we spent a lot of energy chasing.”
Fifth-year senior Brittany Mallory wasn’t able to put a lot of points on the board either, finishing with only three despite playing with toughness and leadership.
Notre Dame was down by 23 and Mallory was still diving after the ball. At that point, it may not have been about winning, but rather pride.
McGraw returns Diggins next season, but it definitely will not be the same with the loss of such a special group of seniors. McGraw’s tears during the post-game press conference spoke much more than the words she was able to choke out about how much the senior class meant to her.
“I was hoping nobody would ask that question. The waterworks will begin now,” McGraw said, pausing to control her emotions. “It’s such a tough way for their career to end.”
Baylor will remain a huge target of the Fighting Irish next season, as the Lady Bears will return all of their major contributors. How will Notre Dame, or any other team for that matter, be able to stop Griner and the Lady Bears?
“I think [Baylor will] be preseason No. 1. And we’re still going to work at getting Brittney to leave early,” McGraw joked.
Too bad for Notre Dame, that’s just not Brittney’s plan.
• Notre Dame falls in the championship game for the second consecutive year. Of the 14 teams that have returned to the championship game in consecutive years, nine have claimed the title.
• Notre Dame falls to 0-3 all-time against Baylor.
• The loss for the Fighting Irish is just the third against a ranked opponent this year.
• The national championship game marked just the eighth time all season Notre Dame was out-rebounded.
• The Irish, who entered the contest ranked second nationally in scoring offense, managed only 61 points, the third lowest of the season.
• Notre Dame, fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowed 80 points, the third most given up on the season.
• The Fighting Irish recorded the fifth-fewest rebounds in a championship game with 27. They were also outrebounded by 19, the third-largest rebounding margin in championship game history.