NOTRE DAME Two days after St. Patrick”s Day, Notre Dame didn”t need any luck to finish off the underdog Wolverines by a count of 88-54 last night in the second round of the Midwest regional.
There was nothing lucky about Notre Dame”s All-America center Ruth Riley”s 21 points, a game-high or Michigan”s 29.7-percent shooting in the second half.
Senior captain Anne Thorius” decorated Michigan career came to an end at the hands of the second-ranked Fighting Irish. But in her finale, Thorius played all but two minutes against Notre Dame.
The Wolverines exit the NCAA Tournament after an impressive run to the postseason and first-round victory over Virginia, but showed last night that they are yet a few years and a few players away from being a national contender.
“Let”s just give Notre Dame a great deal of credit,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “They just had too much, too quickly, and we just didn”t have enough. I think that you try to throw everything that you possibly can, and they responded to everything we threw at them.”
Michigan started the game well before a hostile Joyce Center crowd of 9,597 much as they did against Big Ten champion Purdue in West Lafayette. Sophomore LeeAnn Bies was busy as a bee, matched against the 6-foot-4 Riley. The Irish”s biggest gun was held to a quiet 10 points in the first half, but as Thorius and other Wolverines collapsed to help Bies, Notre Dame”s long threats were left wide open.
Guards Alicia Ratay and Jeneka Joyce each shot 3-5 from behind the arc in the first half, and combined to shoot 50 percent on the night.
“Double teaming is something I have faced a lot this year,” Riley said. “I did not expect them to triple team me with all the talented players we have on the court.”
The Wolverines were as cold as the Irish were hot in the first frame, as their starters shot a combined 10-29 from the field. Bies did not convert a field goal all game.
“I knew it would be tough (to be defended by Riley), and I got a lot of good shots that just didn”t fall,” Bies said.
But despite the poor shooting in the half and the overwhelming Notre Dame offense, Michigan found itself down just 13 with 12 seconds left before halftime. A last-second three by Joyce upped the count to 16, ominously foreshadowing the next half.
“At that point, I didn”t think we were playing very smart,” Guevara said. “You can”t leave people like Janeka Joyce and Alicia Ratay open. You have to make it very difficult for them to get a shot off. That was kind of a “gotcha” right there.”
Michigan has rebounded from poor first halves before. In fact, they seem to have made a career on it. But the Irish came out with too many weapons in the second half. Notre Dame boosted the lead to 29 by midway through the half, as Joyce”s threes and Riley”s consistent rebounding kept Michigan”s defense frantic.
Thorius played aggressively and passionately in her final game in the maize and blue. Seven rebounds, five points, six assists, three steals and a block were impressive but not nearly enough for any kind of Michigan comeback.
Alayne Ingram, the hero of Saturday”s comeback against the Cavaliers, shot only 3-18 from the field, although many of those shots were in desperation as the Irish”s lead grew.
Every player on both rosters saw action in the waning minutes, as a Notre Dame victory was assured. Seniors Thorius and Katie Dykhouse were both on the floor for their final minutes as Wolverines.
Michigan has never advanced further than the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but, with some gifted recruits and a little luck, they may find themselves poised for a longer run next season.