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Length of the Irish: Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner stands tall

The 6-foot-3 grad student had a double double in the national semifinals
Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner (11) shoots a free throw during the second half against Connecticut in a Final Four semifinal of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament Friday, April 5, 2019, in Tampa. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Published Apr. 6

TAMPA ― Their program is sitting on 999 all-time victories, which matches the roster’s combined total of pregame superstitions.

Turns out, the reigning national champs from Notre Dame are enslaved to ritual. Senior forward Jessica Shepard, for instance, washes her face twice during pregame. Junior guard Jackie Young naps for up to an hour.

Senior Marina Mabrey religiously puts on her right shoe first, followed by the left. She also reads her personal list of pregame notes six times before hitting the court, among other quirky customs.

Brianna Turner? Nothing. Her game-day routine features nary a go-to meal or mix tape.

“I’m literally the least superstitious person on the team,” she said.

And perhaps the most significant, at least in terms of tonight’s national title game against Baylor.

If the Irish (35-3) are to repeat, if they’re to neutralize the Bears’ imposing frontcourt, another command performance from their 6-foot-3 defender extraordinaire will be essential.

Friday night against UConn, it was exquisite, at least in the eyes of Irish fans.

“I thought Brianna Turner was absolutely outstanding on defense,” coach Muffet McGraw said following Notre Dame’s 81-76 triumph, when Turner had 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks, including a critical one in the final minute.

“She really single-handedly kept us in the game the first half. She had so many key blocked shots.”

RELATED: Nothing’s better than UConn vs. Notre Dame

Sunday night, she faces a Baylor low post anchored by 6-7 senior Kalani Brown (15.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and 6-4 junior Lauren Cox (13.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg).

Thanks mainly to the tandem’s ability to establish inside position for short, high-percentage shots, the Bears rank fourth nationally in field-goal percentage (50.4).

“I don’t think it’s gonna really change the way I play,” said Turner, the daughter of two law-enforcement officers raised just outside Houston.

“Obviously they have two really great players in Cox and Brown. I’ve just got to make sure I’m really moving my feet, not getting in foul trouble early, and definitely just contesting their shots.”

She has made a career out of fulfilling those very prerequisites.

Notre Dame’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,036) and blocks (371), Turner is a three-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year. She might be a four-time honoree had she not missed all of last season after tearing her left ACL in a 2017 NCAA Tournament overtime win against Purdue.

“Having to sit out a year for my ACL was definitely a difficult time for me,” said Turner, who enters tonight’s game averaging 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

“One thing, it taught me patience. Like (Friday) night, even when we were down (by nine in the fourth quarter), I felt really calm, really patient. So I think I learned some valuable things sitting out last year.”

RELATED: Even in women’s athletics, it can still be a man’s world

In the Irish’s season opener against Harvard, Turner’s first game in nearly 20 months, she had 11 points and 11 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Three nights later against Penn, she notched another double-double (16 points, 10 boards).

Her sparkling semifinal effort against UConn was her 10th double-double of the season. She also went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, illustrating her noticeable improvement in that area.

A 61.2 percent free-throw shooter entering the season, she’s shooting 69.4 percent this year.

“She’s long, athletic, definitely a shot blocker. Can score around the paint,” Brown said.

“Very ... fundamentally sound, slipping screens and stuff, so you really have to be on your toes with her. You never know what you might get from her. I’ve only watched her from afar, but she’s a pretty great player.”

Sunday night, the Irish need her to be a super one.

Superstitious is optional.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.


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