Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw had a very specific goal Tuesday evening against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Plain and simple, she wanted her Irish to pound the paint.
With their considerable length advantage, it was a perfect plan that worked.
Nationally second-ranked Notre Dame scored the first 10 points of the game and built a 14-point lead after a quarter. The Mocs showed a level of resolve in staying in the game but ultimately fell 79-58 in front of 3,388 at McKenzie Arena, the 14th-largest crowd to see a women's game in the building.
The Mocs (5-8) will finish their nonconference slate at Presbyterian on Friday.
"We went out there timid," UTC coach Jim Foster said. "We had veteran players go out there and do silly things.
"We've got to start games better. We have got to start games better, and understand what that means. Resolve? We played hard for three quarters."
Irish center and preseason All-American Brianna Turner had 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, while point guard Lindsay Allen had her first career triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Arike Ogunbowale had 13 points while Kathryn Westbeld scored 11 with eight rebounds and four assists for the Irish (12-1), who shot 56 percent from the field and scored 54 of their points in the paint.facebook
UTC did some damage from deep, making nine of its 23 3-point attempts. Queen Alford had 24 points, a high for the senior while at UTC and one off her collegiate best while at Jacksonville. Lakelyn Bouldin had 11 points, while Chelsey Shumpert had nine. Each of those three made three 3s.
The Irish held a 46-24 rebounding edge, while UTC's other advantage — aside from the long-range shooting — was creating turnovers, with a 13-10 edge leading to 20 points.
The Mocs didn't get on the scoreboard until the 6:52 mark on a jumper by Alford. The Irish led 10-2 at that point, with eight points scored in the paint. That lead would swell to 26-12 after a quarter, with Notre Dame scoring 18 points inside as they continued to go after Jasmine Joyner — who had two fouls by the 5:27 mark and sat out the rest of the quarter — and any other post player who entered the game after that.
"We definitely wanted to look inside," McGraw said. "We thought Bre had a mismatch and we wanted to take advantage of that. We really wanted to get Joyner in foul trouble. I think she makes a big difference on that team, so we tried to get her out of the game."
Joyner finished with two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
The Mocs cut the gap to 29-19 after a pump fake leading to a short Shelbie Davenport jumper four minutes into the second quarter, then cut the margin to nine points two possessions later on a driving Sydney Vanlandingham left-handed layup, but Notre Dame reeled off 10 straight points and took a 44-29 lead into the locker room.
The game remained steady in the second half, with the Irish's lead getting no higher than 21 points and the Mocs getting no closer than 14.
Foster was not pleased with his team's start but feels the Mocs will get it figured out soon.
"We've played THAT team seven times already," he said. "They may have a different name, but if it takes more getting used to it, then I'm coaching a slower bunch of heads than I would like to be coaching. It might say 'Connecticut'; it might say 'Louisville'; it might say 'Notre Dame,' but they all look the same. They're big and they're strong, and we've got to be smart and aggressive, and we can't play in ways that defeat ourselves.
"It's hard enough to beat teams like this, hard enough to compete with teams like this, but when you're playing against yourself for 10 minutes before figuring out how to play with them, that's the issue with this group right now, and we'll figure it out."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.