An unlikely, early end for the Irish
GREENSBORO, N.C. — When the 2019-20 women’s college basketball season began, Muffet McGraw seemed excited and optimistic about what Notre Dame could accomplish, even though the roster went under what was essentially a full reset. All five starters from last year’s national championship were gone. The team would be young, save for a few transfers and down the bench players.
Here’s what she told High Post Hoops at ACC Media Day in October: “I think my patience will be tested, because for me, the bar is never lowered. We have a high bar at Notre Dame and it’s going to be difficult for me to understand that we’re going to have bumps in the road, we’re going to take our lumps early, we’re going to be a better team in March, but how good can we be?
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“I think it’s going to be a fun year for the fans, because you’re really not going to know what to expect.”
With the benefit of hindsight now, it’s easy to say that this was not a fun year for women’s basketball at Notre Dame. It was trying, frustrating and at times, disheartening.
Still, Notre Dame was going into Wednesday’s ACC tournament with momentum. They had won three straight games, including one over then-ranked No. 19 Florida State. Surely, the Fighting Irish could beat last-place Pitt in the first round.
Well, Dayshanette Harris had other ideas. The All-ACC Freshman Team selection scored 20 points – including the final bucket with 2.6 seconds to play – and then stole the ensuing Notre Dame inbounds pass, leading Pitt to an upset win over the Irish. It was Pitt’s second-ever ACC tournament win and just the second-ever ACC tournament loss for Notre Dame since they joined the conference.
“Just another disappointing game in a very disappointing season,” McGraw said.
Indeed. Notre Dame’s season ends with a 13-18 record and an 8-11 mark in conference play. For the first time since 1995, the Irish will not be playing in the NCAA tournament.
The positives for Notre Dame this season are that it had three players land on the All-ACC Freshman Team in Sam Brunelle, Katlyn Gilbert and Anaya Peoples. Gilbert had 20 points Wednesday.
“We have to use this year as a learning lesson, do whatever we need to do to not get back to this year,” Gilbert said. “We have some bright futures ahead of us.”
Brunelle, meanwhile, was stifled by Pitt’s Amber Brown, a fellow freshman. Brown shadowed the Ruckersville, Virginia native all night, holding her to 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting and forcing Brunelle into four turnovers. Peoples suffered a torn labrum in January and has been out since.
Pitt’s future in this league looks bright too. Lance White got a landmark victory Wednesday that he can build his program on. Four of his starters – including Brown and Harris – were freshmen. The other two were Emmy Hayford, who had seven points, and Rita Igbokwe, who had nine rebounds and four blocks.
The Panthers also got boosts from sophomore Ismini Prappa, who hit four three’s in the first half, and junior Gabbie Green, who had 14 points.
“It’s a huge win for our program, getting to play in March and we get to survive and play another day,” White said. “I’m excited about that.”
Added Green: “We’ve lost a lot of games… Trusting the process and trusting each other and today we did that in the huddles, and outside of the huddle we had to lift each other up and it just showed today.”
Pitt was 4-25 this regular season with one ACC win. But this postseason in Greensboro, they’re 1-0. And that’s all that really matters.
Wake Forest dominates inside vs. UNC
Notre Dame wasn’t the only team who saw its unsatisfactory season come to a close.
The North Carolina Tar Heels lost their eighth straight game Wednesday, falling 83-73 to Wake Forest.
Led by Ivana Raca, the Demon Deacons absolutely dominated the Tar Heels inside. Wake Forest won the rebounding battle 47-22, outscored UNC in the paint 40-28 and had a 32-4 advantage in second chance buckets.
UNC’s rebounding total was a season-low and All-ACC First Team forward Janelle Bailey just wasn’t herself. She played with a brace on her left knee and last just 22 minutes to total four points and six rebounds. Bailey had missed the previous three games and Banghart said after the game that she had been on a minutes restriction before that.
“I give credit to Janelle,” Banghart said. “She could have said I’m going to hang ’em up until next year. She was literally crawling up the doctors and the trainers saying, ‘Come on, come on, it’s our seniors.’ And she didn’t practice in full and she played today because she wanted to give the senior the best she could.”
Having just played UNC two weeks ago and knowing that Bailey wouldn’t be at full strength, Wake Forest made a conscious effort to attack inside.
“We felt like we had to win the battle of the paint and control the third of the court,” Wake head coach Jen Hoover said. “We did work to get the ball inside — and give Ivana and Christina credit for being able to finish when we got it inside, and when you get two kids that got double-doubles and are playing as hard as they play for as long as we gave them out there.”
Raca, an All-ACC Second Team selection, finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds, both game-highs. Christina Morra and Alex Sharp each had 19 points.
“I have to give credit to my teammates,” Raca said. “They were fighting me really well under the basket, and I have so much that I took advantage of.”
Banghart said of Raca: “She was just a warrior tonight in all forty minutes. She gave us a real fit.”
UNC’s first year of the Banghart era is over. The Tar Heels will lose three senior starters in Taylor Koenen, Shayla Bennett and Madinah Muhammad. Replacing their production will be at the top of her off-season shopping list.
“I’m excited that, as I go through my first off-season, I know what everybody’s got and I know what the length of this season looks like,” Banghart said. “I have a huge roster change over at the end of the season, because we’re not just losing (Koenen and Bennett), we’re losing a bunch of guys. We will regroup as a staff and relook at our roster and figure out the best way to play in their strengths.”
Thornton pushes Clemson past Miami
Miami beat Clemson twice in the regular season, but on Wednesday in the Greensboro Coliseum, the Hurricanes couldn’t stop Kobi Thornton.
The senior from Shellman, Georgia balled out, scoring a career-high 27 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists, leading the Tigers to an upset win over the 11th-seeded Canes.
“Super proud of Kobi Thornton,” Clemson head coach Amanda Butler said. “Playing like a senior with that urgency and confidence and aggressiveness that I felt like only seniors can bring and she led us and we followed.”
Added Thornton: “This win was very fun. You know, coming into this tournament we had 0-0 mindset and we were hungry, we were starving. We wanted to win and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
For Clemson, the result was really about how well it played defensively. Aside from Beatrice Mompremier – who we’ll get to in a moment – Miami shot just 22 percent from the floor. From three-point range, they went 4-of-25 for a 16 percent clip. Clemson also forced the Canes into 14 turnovers.
“We got the shots we wanted, we put quite a few up,” Miami head coach Katie Meier said. “So, you have to look at the percentages and realize they did a nice job of forcing us to miss shots and we didn’t do a good enough job of forcing them to miss theirs. I never blame it on anything but that, you know, you got to give (Clemson’s defense) some credit.”
Miami was ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll to start the season and slowly tumbled out of it. They end this season with a 15-15 record and will now bid farewell to Mompremier, one of the program’s best players.
After missing 14 games, she returned for the final four games of Miami’s regular season and this match-up, where she was excellent. The 6-foot-4 Miami native scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and also had two steals, a block and six rebounds. She also drew 11 fouls.
“It meant everything to me, coming back out here with my team,” Mompremier said. “I don’t know, I really don’t know what to say. I just wanted to be out there with my team so that’s pretty much what really brought me back.”
On Thursday, Wake Forest will face Virginia Tech at 11 a.m. ET, Virginia will play Syracuse at 2 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech will face Pitt at 6 p.m. ET and Boston College will take on Clemson at 8 p.m. ET.
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