TAMPA, Fla. — When your best shooter goes scoreless in the first half, it’s usually not a good sign.
It wasn’t. Notre Dame fell to Connecticut 63-53 in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship game for the second consecutive year on Tuesday night.
Notre Dame freshman Brianna Turner — the NCAA leader in field-goal percentage — was held to just one shot (a miss) in the first half, and the Irish trailed 31-23 heading to the break.
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|Farnum-Patronis: Notre Dame relishes role as underdog|
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Turner, the ACC Freshman of the Year and the team’s leading rebounder, grabbed just three boards and committed a pair of turnovers in the first 20 minutes. In short, she was a non-factor.
“I think I wasn’t aggressive enough, I was really timid in the first half,” Turner said.
It was Turner’s first time playing the Huskies. She missed the first meeting in December due to a shoulder injury. OK, maybe it was nerves, but Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw gave the credit to the UConn defense.
The Irish just weren’t getting Turner any looks — thanks to the Huskies — and they needed to make some halftime adjustments.
“We needed to get Brianna the ball more and we talked about it at halftime — getting it to her on the pick-and-roll and going high-low,” McGraw said. “We were able to do that a little more successfully in the second half but I thought our point guard had a little trouble finding her. She didn’t seem to be able to find her even when she was open. The pressure on the ball really disrupted us.”
But it was a different story in the second half. Turner connected on 7 of 9 shots for 14 points for her 28th double-digit scoring performance of the season. She added seven rebounds for 10 total on the night and finished the game with her 10th career double-double.
“In the second half, I wanted to just play hard for my team,” Turner said.
Turner’s efforts helped keep the Irish in the game. UConn outscored Notre Dame by just two points in the second half (32-30), and while the Irish could never dig themselves out the hole, it was Turner who kept the hole from getting much deeper.
With 7:34 left in the game, a layup by Turner cut the Huskies’ lead to 51-46 — the closest the game got in the second half — before UConn pulled away for good.
It wasn’t just Turner’s offense that gave Notre Dame a boost. She was challenged with the huge task of defending Naismith Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.
“I thought that Brianna Turner did a great job on her — that was the matchup we were hoping for,” McGraw said. “She was able to stay out of foul trouble and she made it difficult for [Stewart] to get many shots. We did a great job guarding her on the inside and the outside. I was really pleased with the way we defended her.”
While Stewart posted 15 rebounds, she collected just eight points — just the fifth time this season she didn’t score in double figures.
“[Stewart] is just a really long, athletic player, so I tried my best to stay in front of her, and keep a hand in front of all her shots,” Turner said.
Turner’s first national title game most likely won’t be her last. Notre Dame is a young team that returns all five starters who have gained invaluable experience this season.
And Tuesday, Turner may have learned the biggest lesson of all.
“To just always play two halves,” Turner said. “I feel like I only played one half tonight.”