Friday, November 8, 2019

November 5th, 2019: Notre Dame at Fordham

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Notre Dame used size, speed, and a 33-2 free throw differential to pull out a 60-55 win over Fordham. Sam Brunelle and Katlyn Gilbert each had 14 points to pace the Irish, with Destinee Walker adding 10 points and 10 boards. Bre Cavanaugh and Kendell Heremaia each had 14 points to lead Fordham in the loss.

For loud noises, belated election advice, mixed messages, and starting off the season with a bang, join your intrepid and enthusiastic blogger after the jump.

Good evening, fellow basketball travelers! You know what today is, right? It's Election Day! So if you didn't already get out to the polls... well, it'll probably be too late by the time I get these notes posted. But just assume I'm very disappointed in you if you didn't exercise your right and privilege as an American citizen. (If you aren't an American citizen, or are under the age of 18, or can't vote for some other reason, ignore this part.)

But more relevant to the interests of this blog, it's opening day for college basketball! Your intrepid blogger is typing blindly away on a D train headed to the Bronx, as the Fordham Rams open their season with a bang against the ACC powerhouse Notre Dame. I get the feeling my smooth transfers from train to train are about to be the highlight of the night, but who knows? Stranger things have happened, and CPTV has proof.

Our ace reporter on the scene tells me that the legendary Drums of Thunder are in the building. Given how small Rose Hill Gym is, that might be quite a sound. I'm expecting a packed house. Notre Dame alumni are everywhere, they travel well, and I believe there's a NY-area kid on the Irish roster as well. I'm not looking forward to this part. Notre Dame fans can make UConn fans look like choir members with their attitude.

End of the first quarter, and Notre Dame is up 16-14. We're playing reasonably smart basketball, but can't finish a lot of the plays. Two fouls on Anaya Peoples is a problem for Notre Dame early, but two fouls on Anna DeWolff might be a bigger one for Fordham. Even if we get cheesed later, I like what I'm seeing out of our freshmen guards.

At halftime, Notr Dame is up 36-24. All things considered, this isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be when we were scoreless for the first five or so minutes of the quarter. Sam Brunelle is putting on a show with 12 points. The freshmen guards are stealing the show for Fordham; Anna DeWolff is getting looks even if she isn't, and Sarah Karpell is making some astonishingly heady defensive plays for her first real game.

Drums of Thunder is about to get underway. Bring the noise, y'all.

There are a surprising number of split fans- Fordham jackets with Notre Dame hats, that kind of thing. I'm pleasantly surprised by how not-green it is in here, especially since the doubleheader is separate admission- in other words, it's not like people are here for the men's game and sitting on their hands.

Notre Dame's heralded freshmen are very good offensively, but they don't have the defense yet. I mean, it's their first game. I'm realistic here.

In tonight's edition of “counting is hard”: Vilisi Tavui is our starting center and wears 14. Ralene Kwiatkowski is a little-used reserve guard who wears 15. Guess what number the ref flashed when Vilisi committed her third foul (which was, IMO, a borderline call)?

47-35 Notre Dame at the end of the third. The foul differential has been instructive, to say the least. It's not a pretty game, but it was never going to be a pretty game if Fordham was going to have any chance. There have been a lot of “counting is hard”moments in this quarter, with some unusual foul calls and disagreements on who the foul should be called on. Mikayla Vaughn went down hard and stayed down for a while early in the quarter, giving us all a scare, but she was able to put weight on the ankle and came back into the game briefly. She got pulled again, though I think that might have been for blood, or possibly an illegal substitution. Come to think of it, I'm not sure she returned after that.

60-55 Notre Dame final, but honestly, I think there are a lot of positives to take away from this game for Fordham. We came back and stuck with a team that's bigger, faster, and more skilled than we are, and we took them to the last possession. A little more depth, a few less bad calls to have personnel available, and we might just have done it.

Kaitlin Cole played briefly for the Fighting Irish in the second quarter. I don't see a statistical impact for her. Danielle Cosgrove brought good height off the bench when Brunelle was in foul trouble and Vaughn was out of the game, but she's got to hit her shots close to the rim. At her height, with our relative lack of height, she should have been a more dominant force. Katlyn Gilbert impressed me more with her defense than her offense, but then I looked at the box score, and she tied for the lead in scoring. I was impressed with how closely she marked her assignment. And yes, that's it for the Notre Dame bench. McGraw didn't have the chance to go as deep into her bench as she might have liked early in the season.

I like Marta Sniezek's quick hands and her communication on the court. She was quick to call the plays and call out her assignment. I think I expected her to be more of a factor in the scorebook than she was, but maybe that's by design. When this lineup has its act together, it's going to be very offensively potent, and maybe they need her to be a facilitator rather than a scorer. Destinee Walker kept Notre Dame in the game with drives and a midrange game, and kept Fordham in the game with appalling free throw shooting. And it's not like she didn't have a chance to practice, but we'll get to that later, once I figure out how not to swear about it. Anaya Peoples has some sweet moves, but her defense needs a lot of work. She's a freshman, though. That happens with freshmen.

Sam Brunelle has a sweet stroke, especially for a big. She needs to work on her footwork, though. She got dinged for at least two travels in the second half. I can see why she's on the national watch lists, even this early. She's got an amazing amount of potential. I can see her fitting anywhere in a frontcourt and giving McGraw a lot of flexibility with her lineups. Mikayla Vaughn used her length well in the post to get rebounds and putbacks. I'm glad she was able to put weight on the ankle. When she went down I was worried it was an Achilles.

Notre Dame had more size and speed than we did, and there were a lot of plays that we might have been able to make against a typical A-10 team that got shut down against Notre Dame's size. Idon't think McGraw haqs her defense installed yet (note that the best defensive plays were mostly coming from the returning sophomore Gilbert; Sniezek made good individual plays, but not systemic plays).

I was surprised that we didn't give Zara Jillings a lot of run. I guess she falls into the undersized tweener trap against a team like Notre Dame, but she's a heady player and there were times when we could have used her communication skills on the floor, when passes went awry or players were out of position. Megan Jonassen was physical in the post, both on the glass and on putbacks. I like how she's shaping up. Sarah Karpell put in big minutes and made a lot of hustle defensive plays, getting back to stop breaks and getting in for loose balls. Her nose for the ball was fantastic. Katie McLoughlin saw time in the fourth quarter as foul trouble and long minutes took their toll on the starters, and she put up a couple of threes (I think one of them was one of the many Fordham shots that the rim rejected).

(Seriously, at one point my husband said of our shooting, "God hates us." My response, given who we were playing, was "No, God's mom hates us.")

I'm not sure how I feel about Kaitlyn Downey's love of the lookaway pass. On one hand, it's really cool when it works. On the other hand, when it doesn't work, we look stupid. There were stretches when it seemed like she had forgotten how tall she is and was leaving the heavy carrying down low to her teammates (which was not necessarily a great plan given Vilisi's foul trouble). But she had a couple of good blocks. I'd just like to see a lot less of her on the perimeter. (Somehow she snuck up on all the categories in the scoresheet. I don't know how either. I do remember the steals, though- she got into the passing lane and stepped in front of passes. She got by with a little help from her friends- those steals were usually off double or triple teams.) Vilisi Tavui shows some promise, and if nothing else, it's nice to have an actual tall post player to go up against everyone else's tall post player. She's a little more tentative than I'd like her to be, but I get it; this is really her first big action since the injury, and she's suddenly gone from the end of the bench to the starting lineup. That's a big adjustment for a kid who flat out admitted Fordham was her only recruiting opportunity.

Kendell Heremaia is rapidly taking that spot in my heart where I'm willing to fight anyone who makes a bad call against her. She's such a sweetheart. We've already had two games where the Law of Verticality was not only violated but subverted in her case (the Law of Verticality being that if a player falls down, a foul is called on the player who did not fall down, and poor Kene keeps getting the call against her, and it just doesn't seem fair). She's stepping up big for us, and I'm so proud of her. I love watching her on defense, even if it doesn't seem fair that she has to defend other teams' power forwards. I love seeing her run the offense and step into that role so easily. I love her hustle. I keep thinking she should not be taking threes that far back, and then they go in and I shut up for a while. Bre Cavanaugh was missing shots in the first half that it seemed like she should be making- and that she did, in fact, make in the second half. I'm now not sure whether she's actually more potent when she's not the first option or not; on one hand, she can explode in a good way, but on the other hand, it seems like she has her best performances when she doesn't have to be the superstar. It takes the pressure off and lets her play a more complete game. I'm sure Anna DeWolff is going to hit the freshman wall at some point, and I admit I'm worried about the length of time it takes for her to get off good shots sometimes. But until such time as she hits that wall and the shots really stop going down, I'll join the folks in the band who had the DeWolff Pack sign up. She hits shots and she plays without fear. She and Bre have a lot of the same instincts for the ball. Right now, that's a problem because they both try to be in the same place at the same time, and they end up getting in each other's way, which means we lose the possession as often as we gain it. But once they get a better sense of where each of them is on the floor, and they learn to trust each other to get the ball, our rebounding from the backcourt is going to be ridiculous.

I can't overstate the heart of this team. They gave it everything they thought they had, and then they dug deeper and gave some more. Kene was pulling the jersey with three minutes to go, and that was about a minute and a half of game time before she hit the big three. Kaitlyn was starting to register on the Kraayeveld scale. Anna's mask was slipping because of the sweat. But the team just kept coming. If we can take an ACC team to the wire like this, with one of the most lopsided free throw differentials I've ever seen working against them, I look forward to seeing what they can do against teams in their own weight class.

So, about that free throw differential, because we were going to get there eventually. I didn't really think anything of it when Sarah went to the line in the first quarter and split a pair of free throws. It's a thing that happens. We were annoyed that she didn't hit the first, but that's how life is. And then we started racking up fouls, and Notre Dame... did not. I thought there was an imbalance in how the physicality of the game was called, and I certainly objected to the allocation of some of the fouls that did seem legitimate. It just didn't hit me until I was on the train looking at the box score, and the differentials were there in black and white- 27-9 Fordham on fouls, 33-2 Notre Dame on free throws. (And really, if I'm Notre Dame, I'm not happy with my FT%, given that many cracks at it.) It gets frustrating when touch fouls are called at one end and hands to the face aren't called on the other.

I loved how raucous thecrowd was. To my surprise, the Notre Dame fans were fairly quiet during the game. They cheered during intros, but that was about it. Maybe it's different when it's non-conference? Because the ones who showed up to games at Carnesecca before the Big East imploded were real jerks, and that did a lot to color my impression of the fan base. (The Internet has done the rest.) I would like for the Fordham fans to bring this energy for the rest of the season, because these kids deserve it. I know it's not going to happen, but your intrepid blogger would like to dream.

On to the next one. Basketball never stops, and I'm going to have to type faster if I want to stay caught up.

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