Sunday, February 26, 2006

Notre Dame 75, Cincinnati 66

Women's Basketball

I didn't realize this game was on TV here (Ohio News Network) until there were about 2 minutes left in the second half. As it turns out, I saw all I needed to see.
The Irish came out in green uniforms, and their gimmickry almost cost them the game against a team with a very similar record. This game was even for almost the entire contest. Notre Dame did build a six point lead with about two minutes left, but that lead quickly vanished. The game was tied with 22 seconds left, and Cincinnati had the ball. The Bearcat point guard tried to get the ball down into the post. Charel Allen came over to help, and knocked the ball away. Unfortunately for the Irish, the loose ball went right to Treasure Humphries, whom Allen had been guarding, and Humphries hit a jumper with 2.4 seconds left.
Muffet McGraw called time out, and drew up the above play. Well, techinically she didn't just draw it up on the spot, as the team had practiced it many times before. This time, they executed it to perfection. Megan Duffy (13) served as little more than a decoy on this play. Courtney LaVere (41) rifled a baseball pass to Lindsay Schrader (24). (And it was one heck of a pass. I wonder if softball coach Deanna Gumpf is looking for a 6'3 shortstop or right fielder.) Up to that point, it was shades of Christian Laettner. But, the Bearcat defending Tulyah Gaines (1) collapsed on Schrader, leaving Gaines open on the wing. Schrader fed Gaines a perfect touch pass. Meanwhile, Allen (2), cut under the basket, ready to take a pass from Gaines if necessary. But, Allen was too far under the basket, and her defender was in hot pursuit. So, Gaines drove to the basket, barely beating her man and Allen's. The shot went off the glass, the buzzer sounded, and the ball fell in. Tie game - overtime! The team couldn't have been happier. Indeed, had that play happened during the NCAA tournament, we would have been seeing replays for years to come.
What makes that play so perfect is the fact that everyone had options. Duffy served as a decoy, but she was also likely LaVere's safety valve had the 6' Schrader not been open. When Schrader caught the pass (and again, it was a great one), she had three options: shoot, pass to Gaines, or pass to Allen. Once the open Gaines caught the Schrader pass, she had two options: drive, or pass to the cutting Allen. (Or, in the worst case, shoot a jumper.) Likewise, had the pass gone to Allen, she would have had the option to drive or pass to a cutting Gaines. Things don't always goes as planned, especially when it comes to desperation shots. Having options, and properly practicing each and every one of those options, is what separates a well-coached team from a poorly coached team. Often, it's also what separates a winning team from a losing team.
In overtime, Notre Dame simply out-executed Cincinnati. After building a small lead, the Irish made 10 of 11 free throws to seal the game. That number includes a perfect 8 of 8 from the line by Duffy.
Duffy finished with 17 points, as did LaVere. Gaines had a career-high 14, and Schrader added 11.
Senior Day for Duffy and LaVere is this Tuesday against Pittsburgh. Then, the Big East Tournament starts March 4 from the "neutral" Hartford Civic Center. The win over Cincy moved ND into a tie for 10th in the Big East with the Bearcats. More importantly, though, it clinches a berth in the Big East Tournament for the Irish.