November 19, 1996
NOTRE DAME BID TO UPSET #2 TENNESSEE FALLS SHORTRuston, LA --- The 14th-ranked Notre Dame women's basketball team nearly pulled off its second straight upset over a top 10 opponent, but the defending national champion and second-ranked Tennesse Lady Vols hung on for 72-59 victory over the Irish in semifinal action of the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament in Ruston, La.
Down by 19 (52-33) with 11:50 left in the contest, Notre Dame outscored Tennessee 16-3 over the next 5:28 to pull to within 55-49 with 7:12 remaining. Beth Morgan, who had just two points in the first half, key the comeback with a three-pointer from the right baseline with 11:36 left in the contest. Morgan finished the game with l3 points and had five points during the comeback. The lrish cut the Tennessee lead to six on two occacions in the second half when Mollie Peirick canned a three-pointer with 8:21 left and Rosanne Bohman drove around two Tennesse players around her.
Katyrna Gaither continued to put up strong numbers as she finishcd with 20 points and nine rebounds. Tennessee was led in the game by sophomore All-American Chamique Holdsclaw who had game-highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Both players were dominant in the first half for their respective teams as each scored 14 points. Gaither scorcd Notre Dame's first four points of the second half, but then was held without a basket for nearly 12 minutes in the second half. After a layup at the 14:52 mark, Gaither did not score again until there was just 2:43 remaining in the contest.
Notre Dame and Tennessee traded baskets and leads early on in the first half. After Abby Conklin's three-pointer with 9:11 left before the half tied the game at 14-14, the Irish went up by four 18-14 on a Gaither hook shot and Morgan layup.
The Lady Vols came back to score five unanswered points and went up 19-18 on a LaShonda Stephens jumper, but two free throws by Gaither gave the Irish lead back.
Julie Henderson's layup with 4:28 left before intermission put Notre Dame up by five as the Irish had their largest lead of the game at 24-19. Turnovers, by the Irish in the last four minutes of the first half, helpcd give the Lady Vols a 34-27 halftime advantage as Tennessee outscored the lrish 15-3 to close out the first half.
"We were hurt towards the end of the first half by our turnovers," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "We were controlling the tempo and had them playing our type of game, but we got careless with the ball. Defensively, we also had a couple of lapses in the last five minutes of the first half and I think this is where the game was decided."
Tennessee started the second half by coming out and outscoring the Irish 18-6. Notre Dame scored just four points in the first six minutes of the second half.
Both teams somewhat fatigued after playing Sunday and having, to get to Ruston for the game. Notre Dame shot just 36.2 percent from the field, while the Lady Vols shot 37.5 percent. The Irish committed 22 turnovers in the game, including 12 in the second half and were just three of 15 from three-point range and six of 12 from the charity stripe.
Despite the loss, its first of the season after a first round victory over Kent and an upset over then sixth-ranked Iowa, McGraw saw many positive signs from her veterans.
"This was an opportunity for us to go out and see where we are," she said. "This game is a great measuring stick. Our win over Iowa was big and gave us a lot of confidence. Coming in here and playing well is really what our goal was and I felt like we did that for about 30 minutes."
Notre Dame will face 17th-ranked North Carolina State in the consolation game, while Tennessee faces Louisiana Tech in the championship tilt.
Score By Half 1 2 Final Notre Dame 27 32 59 Tennessee 34 38 72