Recovering from a closer than expected victory over Fordham, Notre Dame showed some progress in their home opener with an 80-64 victory against Loyola Maryland.
It was a storybook day for the Notre Dame. The Irish inducted forward Natalie Achonwa into the Ring of Honor and easily handled Loyola Maryland despite only having seven scholarship players available for the game.
The Irish’s only two returners that played meaningful minutes last season—Mikayla Vaughn and Abby Prohaska—are both out indefinitely. Prohaska is out with a bilateral pulmonary embolism and Vaughn is out 4-6 weeks after sustaining a knee in the season opener.
Redshirt freshman Katlyn Gilbert led the way with a team-high 24 points, but it was an all-around effort and both Destinee Walker and Anaya Peoples added 19 points.
Here are some first impressions from the game.
Freshman are contributing early
After graduating nearly 95 percent of their scoring from a season ago, the freshman duo Anaya Peoples and Sam Brunelle were expected to contribute early and they have delivered. Against Fordham, Brunelle led all scorers with 14 points shooting and Peoples added 11 points.
Peoples, the highly touted freshman from Illinois, came out firing, scoring the first four points for the Irish. She has a pure midrange jumper in her arsenal that will help cure some of the Irish’s offensive woes.
Brunelle, despite struggling from beyond the arc (0-5), is a traditional wing adapting to her new position in the post. As the game progressed, Brunelle became more comfortable posting up and kicking out against the double team.
Transfers taking the lead
Transfers Marta Sniezek and Destinee Walker added much-needed veteran leadership for the young Irish core.
Sniezek, transfer from Stanford, has assumed point guard duties. While Sniezek isn’t flashy offensively, she has a natural ability to read the floor and set her teammates up. She has a combined 12 assists in two contests.
Walker, transfer from North Carolina, has become an all-around player for the Irish. She has a knack for driving strong to the basket and a complimentary face-up midrange jumper. In the Irish’s smaller lineup, Walker moved down to play the four but still finished the game with 19 points and four assists.
Lack of depth at the 5 position could be a problem
With Vaughn out, McGraw elected to go small starting Gilbert and moving 6’2 freshman Brunelle to the center position. Brunelle had nine rebounds and two blocks. Backup center Danielle Cosgrove struggled to finish at the basket in 20 minutes on the floor. She finished the game 2-for-8 from the field with 6 points and 8 rebounds, both career highs. While the decision to go small against Loyola Maryland paid off for the Irish, their upcoming matchup against Tennessee will test that small lineup. The Lady Vols have a lot of height with starting 6’4 center Kasiyahna Kushkituah and backup 6’5 center Tamari Key.
Still looking for chemistry on offense and defense
While the offense appeared to be rolling in the 24-point victory, the Irish weren’t on the same page during set plays. McGraw had to use a timeout to get the team to connect. Notre Dame relied heavily on transition baskets and their playmakers to get the offense moving. Confusion on offense led to 19 turnovers, six more than last season’s average of 13.6 per game.
Defensively, they have many areas for improvement starting with defensive rotations. Slow rotations by the Irish have left the three-point line largely uncontested. Luckily, they haven’t faced a team that could consistently hit three-pointers as both Fordham and Loyola Maryland went a combined 14-for-62 from long range.
They face Tennessee on Nov. 11.
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