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ND Women’s Basketball

ND matches best start ever

| Sunday, February 9, 2014

The underdog nearly pulled off the upset when the Notre Dame men’s basketball team played No. 1 Syracuse on Feb. 3.

When the schools’ women’s teams met Sunday, that was not the case. No. 2 Notre Dame’s season-high 61 first-half points paved the way for a lopsided 101-64 victory over the Orange at Purcell Pavilion.

Irish sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey chases down the ball during Notre Dame's 101-64 win over Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion on Sunday. Mabrey scored 18 points during the game.John Ning

Irish sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey chases down the ball during Notre Dame’s 101-64 win over Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion on Sunday. Mabrey scored 18 points during the game.

“I was most pleased defensively. [Syracuse sophomore guard] Brittney Sykes didn’t have any rebounds — that was one of the keys to our defensive game plan. [Syracuse sophomore guard] Brianna Butler didn’t make a 3, so overall, I was really, really pleased with the effort at both ends.”

Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd led Notre Dame with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Senior guard Kayla McBride added 18 points and a team-high five assists while sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey tied McBride in scoring, scoring all 18 of her points from outside the arc.

With the victory, Notre Dame tied its best start in school history at 23-0, but McBride said her team is still not content.

“I think we still have a chip on our shoulder,” she said. “I think we play in the best conference in the country, and we know it’s going to be a tough game, that we’re going to get everybody’s best game night in and night out. [We’re] just sticking to the game plan and taking it one game at a time.”

The Orange hung with the Irish in the second half, with Notre Dame’s 40 points after the break barely outscoring Syracuse’s 36. However, Notre Dame’s first-half lead was too much for the visitors to overcome.

“They’re so balanced. It’s so hard to prepare for a team that has that kind of balance and can score from all spots on the floor,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I thought that our team did a very good job of trying to execute what we discussed in our game plan, but obviously Notre Dame had an answer for everything we did.”

The Irish had an answer for the Orange zone defense, racking up 38 points in the paint and 30 from 3-point range along with pulling down 20 offensive rebounds that converted to 32 second-chance points.

“We were just finding the gaps,” McBride said. “I think we were playing really well together, making the extra pass, and we were hitting shots, so that gave us a lot of energy and intensity. We got the crowd going, which got us going, so we just went from there.”

McGraw picked up her 737th career victory, moving her into a tie for 11th place in Division I women’s basketball coaching wins with late North Carolina State head coach Kay Yow, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2009.

Sunday’s Pink Zone game benefited the national Kay Yow Foundation, as well as the local Foundation of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.

“She was an incredible woman — just did so many great things for the game and a great ambassador for women’s basketball,” McGraw said of Yow. “She left a mark for all of us to try to follow, and she did everything with such grace and dignity, and we’re happy to be involved in this because of her.”

The win was also Notre Dame’s 23rd consecutive win at Purcell Pavilion and drew in a sold-out crowd for the matchup.

“When you get 9,000 people for a women’s basketball game on a Sunday at 3 o’clock, something’s going right,” Hillsman said. “This is an unbelievable atmosphere for college women’s basketball, and I hope it continues like that because it’s good for our game.”

The Irish next hit the road to face Boston College on Thursday at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

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