Monday, March 19, 2007

Notre Dame Women's Basketball 62, Cal 59

Editor's note: regular readers may scroll down to see the winner of this year's KankaNation Laetare Medal.

Notre Dame stormed out of the gates, playing like the team who had more tournament experience, even if most of that experience didn't come from its current player. The lead touched double digits, and things were looking good. Cal's top scorer Devanei Hampton was held to 2 points in the first half, and was sent to the bench with 3 fouls. But Cal wasn't going to give up easily, and forward Ashley Walker stepped up late in the half. She was the game's leading scorer at halftime, thanks to some points in the paint and several trips to the line. But by the intermission, the Irish lead was still 9.
It was Cal's turn to storm out of the gates in the second half. The Bears won the battle of halftime adjustments, as Walker and Hampton picked apart Notre Dame's 2-3 zone. ND's frontcourt for most of the game consisted of Charel Allen at the 3, Crystal Erwin at 4, and Melissa D'Amico or Erica Williamson at center. (D'Amico in fact got the start alongside Erwin to combat Cal's size.) Walker would take the ball down to the block on Erwin's side and move in until she drew coverage from the center. Then all she had to do was pass off to Hampton, who had a great size advantage over the slender Allen. When that didn't work, Walker and Hampton had great success taking 4-footers over D'Amico and Williamson. Walker also made 12 total trips to the charity stripe, converting 10. As Cal's momentum grew, Notre Dame's freshman inexperience started to show. Eventually the Bears took a slim lead before the Irish fought back.
The drama escalated with 31 seconds left. With a chance to ice it, Melissa Lechlitner missed the front end of a one-and-one, drawing the only reaction from her parents during the whole game. But Cal's golden opportunity was lost when Hampton lost the ball out of bounds under the basket. On the ensuing throw-in, Tulyah Gaines was fouled and made both free throws. But it wasn't over yet. Ashley Barlow, who finished with 10 rebounds, was called for a foul on what looked to be a clean block of a three point attempt by the Bears. The first two free throws were made, but the Irish gathered in the rebound after the third was missed. A long outlet went to Lechlitner on the breakaway. She had a chance for an easy layup with 5 seconds left, but with an impressive display of awareness she instead chose to dribble out the clock and wait to be fouled. With just under three seconds left, Lechlitner got her redemption by hitting two free throws to cap the scoring. With help from a 5-for-7 performance from the stripe, Lech finished with 12 points, second on the Irish to only Charel Allen's 13.

The Irish next face #1 seed North Carolina Tuesday night at 9 PM Eastern on ESPN2. Look for some familiar faces in the trombone section for that one.