March 23, 2008
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) – Ashley Barlow had 20 points, a career-high 12 rebounds, four steals and three assists, leading Notre Dame past SMU 75-62 in their NCAA tournament opener Sunday.
Notre Dame (24-8), the fifth seed in the Oklahoma City regional, will face fourth-seeded Oklahoma on Tuesday in the second round. The Sooners held off Illinois State 69-61 earlier Sunday.
It was only Notre Dame’s second win ever on Purdue’s home court – both coming this season – after eight straight losses dating to 1985. They even lost a first-round game here two years ago, the only time in 12 years they failed to reach the second round.
Barlow, a sophomore, was too young to know the difference and was relentless on defense and the glass.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said after nearly matching her 22-point performance from earlier this season at Purdue. “I think it’s because my family is so close.”
The surprise wasn’t that the Irish won. It was how they did it.
They overcame 40.6 percent shooting from the floor with a 49-26 advantage on the glass, pulling down nearly as many offensive rebounds (24) as defensive. Barlow had five offensive rebounds. Teammates Lindsay Schrader and Charel Allen each had six.
“I think Ashley Barlow was the player of the game,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She was excellent in both halves. She just had an outstanding game.”
SMU (24-9), the Conference USA tournament champs, rallied several times but eventually wore down inside. Janielle Dodds and Jillian Samuels each had 15 points to lead the 12th-seeded Mustangs, but it wasn’t enough to extend their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2000 to a second game.
If the Mustangs needed an explanation for what went wrong, it was clear – the rebounding differential.
“They flat outmuscled us, they flat outhustled us,” SMU coach Rhonda Rompola said. “They deserved to win today. They flat outplayed us.”
And it was never more obvious than in the game’s decisive flurry. With Notre Dame leading 61-57 with 2:29 to go, Charel Allen scored on a putback, drew a foul, then missed the free throw. Barlow grabbed the rebound, drew another foul and made the free throw to complete the five-point play.
That made it 66-57, and the Mustangs never challenged again.
Notre Dame used an early 17-2 spurt to take a 25-8 lead midway through the first half.
But with two Notre Dame starters, center Erica Williamson and guard Tulyah Gaines, in foul trouble, the Mustangs rallied. Dodds’ interior play and Samuels’ 3-point shooting spree allowed SMU to close the half on a 13-4 run to pull to 36-32.
“It’s not like we laid down and let them run all over us,” said Dodds, the Conference USA tourney MVP. “We just didn’t come out and play like we’re capable of playing.”
The Mustangs were as close as 40-39 with 17:43 to go when the Irish started rebuilding their lead.
But again SMU rallied. This time Brittany Gilliam scored four points in a 6-0 run, tying the score at 57 with 4:40 left. Gilliam had a chance to give SMU the lead when she stole the ball on Notre Dame’s next possession and drove in for a layup, but she was called for charging.
“If we had converted, it would have put us up by two and we would have some momentum,” Rompola said. “But we had a couple of turnovers after that and then we got that panicked look and that’s how we played the rest of the game.”
Notre Dame turned the miscue into its knockout punch, the final blow being Barlow’s three-point play that helped Irish coach Muffet McGraw forget some of those nightmarish encounters she’s had at Purdue.
Becca Bruszewski came off the bench to score 16 points for Notre Dame and Allen had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“Our defense, finally, came up big for us,” McGraw said.