Jan. 20, 2015
No. 5 Tennessee sliced into a double-digit lead by the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team on Monday night by closing within seven points, 59-52, and the Lady Volunteers had possession of the basketball.
Working to try and cut the Fighting Irish lead to five points with less than 10 minutes left in the second half, Tennessee’s Bashaara Graves drove in for a lay-up.
And once Cable got the ball in the hands of Notre Dame sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen, it was all downhill for Rocky Top.
Allen raced downcourt and kicked out a pass to Jewell Loyd, who connected on a three-pointer.
Irish by 10.
Next possession, Allen drove the lane and dished to Turner.
Irish by 12.
Steal and lay-up by Cable.
Irish by 14.
Notre Dame hit Tennessee with a 7-0 lightning strike for a 66-52 lead with 8:32 left, and the Lady Vols never recovered.
Allen ignited the seven-point, 51-second knockout punch by running the court and distributing, and helped the No. 6/7 Irish deck No. 5/6 Tennessee, 88-77.
Coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish (17-2) return to Atlantic Coast Conference action on Thursday night, when Notre Dame hosts Georgia Tech. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST at Purcell Pavilion.
Allen, a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Mitchellville, Maryland, finished the game with 15 points and six assists. In her previous game, she helped the visiting Irish rally from 11 points down to knock off No. 12/10 North Carolina, 89-79. In that game, Allen scored a career-high 24 points and dished out a career-best nine assists.
One of the top shooting guards in the nation with a .580 field-goal percentage, Allen was nine of 12 from the floor against North Carolina, and five of nine against Tennessee, a combined 67 percent.
Last season, Allen averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 assists a game.
This season, Allen entered the Tennessee game averaging 11.1 points and leads the ACC with 4.8 assists a game.
Against Tennessee, Allen scored on fearless drives to the hoop against Tennessee’s towering front line, and she hit pull-up jumpers.
“When she came back (in the fall), we could tell she really improved,” McGraw said of Allen. “I would say she’s our most improved player coming back from the summer. She’s more aggressive offensively. She’s trying to create more, which is something she’s really good at.”
McGraw said that Allen has tremendous insights when it comes to running the Irish floor game. Her 2.07 assist/turnover ratio — third in the ACC — certainly eases McGraw’s stress level.
“Lindsay is just a great leader in terms of managing the game, slowing it down, knowing when to run,” McGraw said. “She understands who needs to get the ball at the right time. `Jewell’s on fire. We need to keep working that. The pick-and-roll is working. Let’s get Bri in the pick-and-roll.’ She really understands things late in the game, like when to use clock. I’m really pleased. Her basketball IQ is really high. Her shot looks better, and she’s scoring more, and we need her to.
“Lindsay’s mixing it up when it comes to her scoring,” McGraw added. “The drive is hard to guard. She’s so strong, she can finish with contact, and she’s always a threat to make the pass, even when she’s on her way to the basket. She’s very versatile.”
Allen delivered in the clutch on Monday night. She scored 12 of her 15 points against Tennessee in the second half, helping the Irish delight a roaring sellout crowd of 9,149 with Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive victory against the storied Lady Vols’ program.
“She was solid,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of Allen. “I thought she had one of her better games. I think when we took Jewell (Loyd) out, she stepped up and made plays. She ran the team and got people the ball, people who needed to get the ball. She’s a year older and a little bit more mature. I thought she did a great job of running her team.”
Allen said that experience and getting a better handle on the options that the Irish offense offers has helped her step up her game.
“As I’m going through the games and getting more experience, I think the game is slowing down a little bit more for me,” Allen said. “I’m being more aggressive looking for my shot, and going through our options and looking for our posts, trusting our offense more.
“With our offense, there are so many different reads,” she noted. “You can take it to the basket, you can fade and take a lay-up, or you can fade and take a jump shot. It just depends on how the defense is playing us at the time. Our offense, you can get the jump shot, you can get the wide open three, you can get a wide open lay-up with the back-door play. I was comfortable being challenged by the coaches to take more shots. I want to do whatever it takes for this team to win.”
Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey said that Allen’s surge against top-10 teams is indicative of the talent that Allen has to take the Irish deep in the NCAA Championship.
“Lindsay’s just scratching the surface of how good she’s going to be,” Ivey said. “I think that she is such a great floor leader for us. This year, she’s had to really mature and grow up at that point guard role. I feel like last year, she had a lot of veterans around her, like Kayla McBride, who helped her make that adjustment, being a freshman. This year, everything is on her shoulders. She’s somebody we know that we can challenge, and we did, for her to step up and be more vocal.”
Ivey said that Allen is an astute student of the game, and has a great mental toughness, which allows here to maintain her composure.
“Lindsay sees a lot of different defenses, and it never rattles her,” Ivey said. “If she needs to go out and make a three, she does that. If she needs to come off of a ball screen and hit the post or take the shot herself, she can do that. She’s fearless when she drives to the basket. Her ability to score and her ability to break defenders down have really improved. The last handful of games, that’s really come to the forefront, and it’s happened against ranked teams. I knew that she was capable, but I’m shocked at her ability to do that on a day-to-day basis and take the pressure off of Jewell.”
Allen said that the back-to-back wins over top-10 teams in North Carolina and Tennessee will be a big boost for her and the Irish.
“These games have been huge confidence boosters for all of us,” Allen said. “We’re a young team, and we’re still trying to figure things out. The win at North Carolina was really big. They cut our lead to one with a few minutes left. We stayed poised and got the win on the road. Against Tennessee, with our great crowd and great atmosphere, we stuck to our game plan, got some runs going, and converted down the stretch.
“Being poised is so important, no matter what is happening,” she added. “At North Carolina, we were down 11, the crowd was really loud, we stayed poised and took our time. We went through our sets, not being rushed. If the defense sees that you’re rushed, they’re going to pressure you more. We were running our offense, making hard cuts, and making easy baskets.”
Lindsay Allen’s performances the past two games against top-10 teams shows that the Irish floor general is getting more command of the offense. And that mastery could create more magical moments at tournament time for the Irish.
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent