Against South Florida, the Irish had a season-low five steals (matching the number of thefts in an 81-76 loss to Kentucky on Nov. 21). Notre Dame allowed South Florida to hit 4 of 9 shots from 3-point range (44.4 percent), and it was only the second time in 16 games that a team has scored more than 65 points against the Irish.
Notre Dame’s defense had been in lockdown mode recently, not allowing a team to score more than 60 in its last six games. In Notre Dame’s last three games, No. 23 St. John’s only scored 36, Villanova put up 43 and No. 25 Syracuse could only muster 48.
Villanova and Syracuse hit a combined 29 baskets against Notre Dame, but South Florida connected on 25. Freshman Andrea Smith caused the most trouble for the Irish as the junior guard poured in 20 points.
“I thought Andrea Smith really had just a great game,” McGraw said. “She was really hard for us to guard. She ran off screens, she scored in the zone, she really did it all. Her sister (Andrell, 15 points) played equally well. They were too much for us to guard.”
Notre Dame went to a zone defense, which the Irish use sparingly, because of foul trouble and hoping to stop the speedy Bulls’ penetration. Every time the Irish would pull ahead by 16 or 17 points, South Florida would close to single digits.
“I think it’s just that time of the year when games like that are going to happen, and we were fortunate (to win),” McGraw said.
Natalie Novosel, who led Notre Dame in scoring with 19 points, said that the No. 8 Irish (20-4 overall, 9-1 Big East) expect to get back on track on Tuesday night (7 p.m.) at home against Seton Hall (7-15, 0-9).
“I think we took this team for granted a little bit,” Novosel said of the athletic Bulls, who are 10-13 overall and, despite a 1-8 league mark, have been competitive in Big East play.
“We’ve been playing pretty well. We just thought we would continue that. We have to mentally prepare ourselves for every single game. We weren’t playing our best today.
“I think we’ll get it back. We just have to stay together defensively and offensively. We have to come out ready to play defense. That’s what feeds our transition and our offense. We’ll be fine. We’ll just get it together in practice and move on to the next game.”
McGraw got a big game from 6-foot-3 freshman post Natalie Achonwa, who scored 14 points and fought for eight rebounds.
McGraw liked the fire she saw from Achonwa at critical moments.
“I thought she (showed fire) late in the game,” McGraw said. “I didn’t think she had it the entire game, but I thought she had it late in the game. Again, that steal and a couple of rebounds down the stretch that she just went and got - nobody was going to take it from her. I thought she showed a lot of fire late in the game, like, ‘We need to win, time to step up,’ and she did that.”
Out of sync
Notre Dame struggled when star post Devereaux Peters, who has led the Irish in scoring the last two games, sat on the bench early in the first half with two fouls, and then headed back there 36 seconds into the second half with three fouls.
“(Foul trouble) kept Dev from getting in a rhythm,” McGraw said. “Those two quick fouls, that threw her game off. And then Brittany (Mallory) and Natalie (Novosel) each have three, and then Dev comes in and immediately gets her third. It was that kind of game for her, and you can see what we’re like without her.
“She’s been so steady and solid for us throughout the Big East, and she didn’t have it today,” McGraw said of Peters, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes. “She’s going to have off days. Somebody else has to pick up the slack.”