Fighting Irish ramp up defensive focus
What does defense sound like for the Notre Dame women's basketball team?
It's the blaring buzzer of the shot clock ringing out as time expired before an opponent, like Sunday's Saint Joseph's, could get off a shot.
It's the sound of a slap as a shot gets smacked out of its intended trajectory.
It's the roar of the Purcell Pavilion crowd as a theft turns into a hoop for the Fighting Irish.
No. 4 Notre Dame scored a 64-50 victory against Saint Joseph's Sunday with defense setting the tone.
Tenacious defense enabled the Fighting Irish to limit Saint Joseph's to a season-low 50 points, and 38.5 percent shooting (20 of 52). There were six shot clock violations. Notre Dame blocked six shots -- five by freshman Brianna Turner -- and the Irish came up with five steals and forced 16 turnovers against Saint Joe's slow-down offense.
Turner's five blocked shots in her first game back from suffering a shoulder injury in the Dec. 3 game against Maryland set an intimidating tone for the Irish.
"She came out of nowhere for a couple of those," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said of Turner's swats. "When Saint Joseph's was making the run in the first half and we needed to make some stops, she was key in that stretch.
"Overall, I think the blocked shots, especially, are really deflating to the offense," McGraw said. "It really gave us a great chance to get running."
A 6-foot-3 freshman, Turner averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 points when she suffered the shoulder injury. She missed three games.
Turner's return made an impact. In addition to her five blocks, she scored 19 points on seven-of-eight shooting and five of six on free throws Sunday.
Blocked shots allow Notre Dame to control the tone of a game. The paint became exclusive property of the Irish, who limited Saint Joe's to 10 points inside while piling up 44 points in the paint.
Turner only picked up one foul in blocking five shots.
"I try to have good body control and go for the shot after they release it," Turner said of her shot-blocking technique. "I learned in high school about blocking shots. Now, you're facing better players with better body control."
Turner's blocks fueled a lethal Irish transition game.
"We get real excited with our stops and we're able to run in transition," Turner said. "That's a big part of our team's game, transition. Getting a block, getting a quick rebound and the outlet to our guards so they can run the floor really helps out offense."
"They're long, they're lanky and they have a lot of wingspan, especially with No. 11 [Turner] and No. 12 [Taya Reimer]," Saint Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin said. "They were able to get some tips and deflections and really disrupt what we were doing."
McGraw said the Irish wingspan is a major asset.
"The length is really critical," McGraw said. "You look at [Turner] when she comes out at you, you've got a long person with their hands up coming at you. Jewell [Loyd] has that same ability. Other than that, that's the most important thing, and it also helps to be quick."
Notre Dame's coaching staff usually has plenty of work to do with freshmen when it comes to the defensive end.
"I think the first thing their high school coach tells them is don't foul," McGraw said of star high school recruits. "So they generally don't guard the other team's best player. Maybe they play some zone to protect them, so they really have never played defense, a lot of them.
"Mychal Johnson came in very well prepared, and you can see the results of that right now," McGraw said. "I think Bri ... it's different for the posts, especially with foul trouble. You really don't want to have them sitting on the bench when you have one of the best post players in the country."
Post players have to learn weak-side help and how the rotation works on defense, according to McGraw. Posts also have to learn how to defend against ball screens.
"There's a lot of new stuff for them," McGraw said of the posts. "It's a little easier for the guards. It's difficult for the posts. I think Bri is doing a great job of understanding what we're trying to do defensively."
Based on Sunday's game against Saint Joseph's, Turner is learning the defensive part of the game quickly. And that is going to add up to trouble for Irish opponents.