Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Brittany Mallory is a player that I've always enjoyed watching for exactly the reason 4pointshooter of SB Nation's One Foot Down wrote in his post-game summary on Sunday.
Statistically, Mallory might have stood out more due to her 4 assists in the second half and two big overtime shots that helped Notre Dame pull away in a closely contested game.
Key player: Brittany Mallory's calming presence helped get Notre Dame on track
Mallory had an outstanding game as a distributor but her 31.48% assist ratio and 6.29% turnover ratio for a Pure Point Rating of 5.69 were due primarily to what she did in the second half.
Yet her intangibles were on display in the first half as well, though perhaps more subtly.
Although it didn't really show up on the scoreboard, Notre Dame really struggled to establish any sort of rhythm in their normally-fluid offense in the first half. Whether that was due to nerves or simply the difficulty of playing an elite defense for the 8th time in 14 months, they looked out of sorts, literally coming just short of running into each other on their cuts. But with the ball in Mallory's hands toward the end of the first half, the Fighting Irish seemed to calm down a bit.
After committing 8 turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game and finding themselves down by 6 points, over the following 5 minutes they didn't commit any turnovers and found themselves within 1 point with 1:33 left. Again, even that fails to fully illustrate what changed during that time - Notre Dame just suddenly began to look like the well-coordinated offense that earned a #1 seed during that time, even if they didn't immediately take hold of the lead. Nevertheless, finding a way to cut down on those turnovers ended up being a significant factor in the outcome of the game.
Key statistic: Notre Dame only commits 5 second half turnovers
For about a 22 minute span from the 6:38 mark in the first half to the 4:44 mark in the second half, Notre Dame committed 4 turnovers; most teams would revel in the idea of controlling the ball that well for a 20-minute half. During that same time period, UConn committed 11 turnovers.
Of course, that ball control fell apart for Notre Dame in that frantic final minute and a half of regulation. But in an overtime game with both teams struggling to take control, UConn's turnovers throughout ended up making a massive difference.
UConn's 10 turnovers in the second half - almost 30% of their possessions - ended up being one difference in the game: Notre Dame scored 10 points off those turnovers while only committing 5 second half turnovers of their own.
Notre Dame and UConn turnovers by period.
This is not a unique problem for Notre Dame opponents or UConn in particular; this is just what Notre Dame's disciplined pressure defense routinely does to teams, forcing about a 30% turnover rate during the season as well.
Notre Dame statistical MVP: Devereaux Peters pulls in a game-high 12 rebounds
UConn's turnover problems were only compounded by the fact that they also lost the rebounding battle, which could arguably be the thing that allowed Notre Dame to hang around when their offense was sputtering early on even though - again - it didn't necessarily show up on the scoreboard.
But that also speaks to the sort of weird outcome of forward Devereaux Peters' performance.
Peters finished with a double-double, a game-high 12 rebounds and 17 points and a team-high 62.86% true shooting percentage. She had a free throw rate of 80% and an impressive defensive rebounding rate of 26.47%, which clearly helped Notre Dame control the boards in the first half despite their struggles otherwise.
And she also got torched for 12 points by UConn center Stefanie Dolson in the first half.
UConn statistical MVP: Stefanie Dolson leads UConn with 20 points, 9 rebounds
This is somewhat unavoidable: had Dolson not left the game for about 7 minutes with 17:19 left in the second half due to foul trouble, it's within reason to believe that UConn would've won this game in regulation. The Huskies' sophomore center was as dominant as she's ever been in the first half and Peters at times looked helpless to stop her, whether it be on second chance points, pick and rolls or straight post-ups.
The fact that Dolson played well is not all that surprising - at times, she has looked like an elite center this season. But the fact that Peters struggled to put up any resistance in the first half was somewhat surprising.
Peters won't exactly be getting a break after Notre Dame faces the Baylor Lady Bears in the National Championship game - 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner is quite literally a bigger challenge than Dolson and Peters will obviously be relied upon to help defend - or contain - her. While other players might end up dominating the headlines, it's Peters that might end up being most significant to Notre Dame's chances to get a win - as much as lapses against Dolson might have hurt the team, lapses against Griner could negate any kind of effort to come back and win.
For more on this game and the 2012 NCAA women's basketball tournament, check out our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.