Mother Nature does not seem to approve of us having big games. There was yet more snow dumped on Queens right around the time people would start arriving. I was not amused, especially given the number of people whose snow I had to slog through to get there. But you don't want to hear about that. You want to hear about the biggest win in Red Storm history, right?
I LOVE MY TEAM I LOVE MY TEAM WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS HOW MUCH I LOVE MY TEAM BUT I WILL TRY.
Gotta give credit to the student sections, who showed up in force for this huge, huge game. Special shoutout to the guy in the backwards cap, the guy in the gray hoodie, the guy in the Ellsbury jersey, and their crew, who kept the noise level up all through the game and gave us our cues to work from for chants. We also have to show much love for the group of students behind us who may have thought we were crazy, but who joined in our shouting, and to the trio of Johnnies in the section behind the visiting bench who made sure there was a chant coming from that end too. In general, the crowd was great and really into it.
I wish the anthem singer had been competent, but I'd rather have a win than a good anthem.
I assume Devereaux Peters is still working her way back from injury- not because of how she played, but because she didn't start and because she only played 28 minutes. (Yeah, only. *mocks self*) She was the best post presence Notre Dame had on both ends of the floor. I didn't like the reaching- she probably should have fouled out, but with two calls that weren't made and one that shouldn’t have been made. I was expecting Novosel to make more plays, but she was a little out of her depth, I think- I assume that she got more minutes because of Schrader's absence. Turner came in for a few minutes to be the foul magnet in the last couple, and Williamson got some time when both Peters and Bruszewski were in foul trouble- I like her size. If I'd been Muffet McGraw, I might have used her more to take advantage of the Red Storm's lack of size.
I don't think I need to tell readers of the Game Notes of Doom, or of Swish Appeal, that Skylar Diggins is the real deal. Either you know or you can guess that she's one of the best players in the conference and one of the best players in her class. She's fast, she's smart, she's athletic- did I mention she's fast?- and she can get to the basket pretty much whenever she wants. She doesn't need help from the officials. Ashley Barlow came up with a lot of big shots for them, and worked her butt off on defense. Brittany Mallory showed exceptional ability to slash to the basket and hit the long shot. I was surprised to be impressed by her. I wasn't expecting Melissa Lechlitner to be so easily shut down, but she wasn't really a factor in this game. Neither was Becca Bruzewski, though that had more to with her foul trouble than with any lack of ability- when she was in, she did a good job of getting and holding position in the lane. I really like her, though that may be a function of her name and the bright pink ribbon woven through her hair for style points.
We didn't win this game because of our bench. There were some plays Coco made that were sheer hustle that I applaud her for, but there were twice as many plays where I wanted to go down there and wham her with the Clipboard of Doom for blowing an easy play. Kelly added two more treys to her total, but really fell asleep on defense and rebounds. There's a difference between expecting her to get stuff that she doesn't normally get and expecting her to do more than stand there and be decorative. Eugeneia showed nothing. Less than nothing, even. She played one or two bursts, then sat down for the rest of the game.
We won this game because of our starters. Joy came to play- the stats might not show it, because she wasn't credited with a single block, though she had at least two. She tore it up on the boards. I'd love to see her +/- for this game, but the St. John's play-by-play doesn't have substitutions. Nadirah quarterbacked a solid game and picked up on the boards where 'Geneia usually does. She crossed over Diggins late in the game with a move that had the crowd "oooh!"ing at her. Da'Shena hit her free throws! Well, seven of them, but out of ten, that's a much better percentage than we've been getting out of her. She was victimized by some bad calls, too; she takes a lot of hits, and I'm not sure how much more she can take. Sky came up with the big shots when we needed her- the one that sticks out most in my memory is the three to beat the shot clock and extend the lead. This might have been Shenneika's breakout game the way UConn was Da'Shena's last year- it wasn't that her shooting percentage was great, but she did a little bit of everything, both in terms of mixing up her offensive repertoire and in terms of filling the stat sheet. (However, she also got blocked by Ashley Barlow. Shenneika, you are 6'1" and therefore there is no excuse for a 5'9" guard to block you.)
I have no idea what game the referees started watching in the second half, but I don't think it was the one they were supposed to be watching. They started calling phantom fouls and really questionable fouls whenever Red Storm players dared to defend Skylar Diggins. Did we commit dumb fouls? Yes, we did. This is the sort of thing that tends to happen when Coco Hart is on the floor. But some of that contact was incidental, and a lot of it was stuff they'd been letting go, and some of it was not being called at both ends of the floor. Diggins doesn't need that kind of help from the refs, and it reflects badly on her through no fault of her own. And as the game went on, it seemed like the referees were doing everything they could to keep ND in the game- plays that should have been fouls were called jump balls or not called at all, that sort of thing.
The worst was the last play of the game. St. John's was up six as Notre Dame put the ball up on their last possession. From where I was sitting, it looked like Diggins fell on Nadirah. As the clock ran out, we began to celebrate because, well, WE BEAT NOTRE DAME. And then we saw that as the light turned red, Bonita Spence's arm was up and her whistle had blown. Somehow, that play turned into a three-shot foul against Nadirah. Ms. Spence was not Captain Popularity in the arena. Diggins stepped to the line, having hit all nine of her free throws without a quaver, and proceeded to miss two free throws off the back of the rim, the second identical to the first, before hitting the third. I'll swear on a stack of media guides that she tanked the first two shots and hit the third to avoid the rebound because she knew the foul was bogus.
And then we celebrated again because, well, WE BEAT NOTRE DAME. Yes, the absence of Schrader is a bit of an asterisk. I recognize and accept that. Notre Dame has a solid team and a lot of good players, though I don't honestly know that they're the third or fourth best team in the country. They'll do well and go far. Maybe we got lucky.
But, on the other hand, that's the third time in a row we've beaten them at Carnesecca. And maybe our bench would have risen to the occasion if we had to contend with Schrader as well as Bruzewski, Mallory, Diggins, and the rest of the Irish. What ultimately matters is this: there are no asterisks in the standings. We won, despite the referees. We won, despite the runs Notre Dame threw at us. We won, despite the differential in the rankings. We pulled it off, and we are now guaranteed to finish above .500 in one of the strongest conferences in the country.
This team doesn't give up. This team turns it up in the second half. And that's what's got me so excited. We play at Rutgers on the 24th. We play at home on the 27th. We're at Pitt March 1st. Come and see about us. We're ready to Dance.