After two different victories against Fordham and Loyola (MD) in their first two contests of the season, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team hosted their first real challenge of the young campaign with a visit from the Lady Vols of Tennessee.
Both teams entered Monday’s matchup with 2-0 records and more questions than answers through two contests.
The Irish, who started three freshmen against the Vols for the first time in coach Muffet McGraw’s 33-year coaching career, looked to leave their first real test with their third win in three tries.
Here’s a quarter-by-quarter recap of Monday’s showdown with the Vols and freshman Jordan Horston, the No. 2 prospect on the ESPNW big board in this year’s crop of young stars.
The game started with a rather frantic pace in the game’s opening minutes with a pair of 5-0 runs from both sides, until Tennessee seized control on the back of Horston and Rennia Davis, who was easily the best player on the floor in the opening 20 minutes of action.
Following the first media timeout around the 4:24 mark of the opening period, the Vols got a bucket from Davis, a turnover and an easy layup from Davis to push the lead out to double digits for the first time in the game for either team.
The Irish missed 11 of their first 17 shots in the first quarter and trailed by seven heading into the second frame.
After one: Tennessee 21, Notre Dame 14.
Notre Dame’s young season could be defined with a single graphic that ESPN2 showed during the second quarter.
That’s quite a bit to replace from last year’s national runner-up roster that came within an eyelash of winning back-to-back titles, but Destinee Walker certainly tried her best to replace as much of that production as she could.
Walker scored eight of the final 10 points for the Irish before the intermission and helped the Irish close the gap to just four points at 28-24, but the Vols were able to keep the Irish off the board for the final 3:06 of the second frame and took an eight-point lead into the break.
Halftime: Tennessee 36, Notre Dame 28.
The Rennia Davis Show took center stage for the Vols, as the junior drained three of her five triples in the first three quarters in the third period to help Tennessee push the lead out as far as 18 points (50-32, 7:06).
This is how grim it looked at point early in the third for the Irish:
But, ESPN2 did give Irish fans a sliver of hope with this nugget from last season:
It's a 17-point game, but the Irish have been here before.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) November 12, 2019
(But, not with this roster.) pic.twitter.com/1vgQvxMqeN
Despite the big comeback vibes returning to the thoughts of those watching from home, Tennessee didn’t let the Irish get the game any closer than 13 points in the quarter and continued their dominance on the glass and in the block department.
Through three frames, the Vols racked up 10 blocks (!), six (!!) of them in the third quarter.
Walker did all she could to keep the Irish around to an extent with an eight-point quarter, but the Irish still trailed by 13 heading into the final frame.
After three: Tennessee 60, Notre Dame 47.
The door was open a few times for the Irish throughout the final period, forcing turnover after turnover, a total that reached 28 (!!!) on the evening, but the lack of shot-making killed the Irish down the stretch.
Adam Amin, the play-by-play man for ESPN2 on Monday night, had this stat on the Irish: the last time the Irish shot below 35 percent in a game was alllllllllll the way back in the 2015 national title game against UConn.
The Irish shot just 31.4 percent from the field (22-of-70), including just 7-of-25 from long range, which was a big part of why the Irish couldn’t get back into the game late.
Davis contributed in the Vols icing the game away with six of the final 10 points for the Vols over the final 3:38 to finish her massive night by tying her career high with 33 points and 10 rebounds.
Final: Tennessee 74, Notre Dame 63.
You would think turning a team over 28 times would lead to a Notre Dame victory, but when that same opponent shoots 47.2 percent (25/53) in a game where you shoot under 32 percent and they grab 27 (!!) more rebounds than you do (55-28), you’re probably not going to have a good time at the office.
With the loss, the Irish dropped just their fourth game in the last 114 games at Purcell Pavilion and fall to 2-1 on the season.
There were some bright spots in the defeat, like Destinee Walker, who scored a team-high 18 points and tried to keep the Irish close throughout the game from the second quarter onward.
Plus, it’s a strong learning experience for a team that’s replacing more offensive production than any team in the nation this season. Tennessee will compete in the SEC under first-year coach and former player Kellie Harper, especially if Davis has strong performances like this one.
The Irish have plenty of work to do, but it’s hardly the middle of November. There’s still plenty of time to get back on track.