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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish finish strong to topple Hokies

| Friday, February 3, 2017

Virginia Tech had a chance to win it. And then it was gone.

The Irish went on to take down the Hokies 76-59 on the road in Blacksburg, Virginia. The Hokies (16-6, 3-6 ACC) sprung out to an early lead as No. 7 Notre Dame (21-3, 9-1) struggled to maintain control of the ball, turning the ball over five times in the opening four minutes.

Sophomore guard Marina Mabrey kept the Irish within reach by knocking down two early 3-pointers, but it was not until junior forward Kathryn Westbeld came off the bench midway through the first quarter that the Irish were able to regain control of their struggling offense. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was particularly pleased with Westbeld’s production, as she did not start due to an injury.

“I was really happy with Kathryn Westbeld,” McGraw said. “I thought, she was the difference in the game. Still nursing a sore ankle but she was able to really get it out and she did a great job.”

Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale looks to make a pass during Notre Dame's win over Virginia on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Emma Farnan | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale looks to make a pass during Notre Dame’s win over Virginia on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

McGraw felt the momentum swing early in the game that allowed the Irish to end the first quarter with a 19-11 lead after being down to start the game was due to a renewed intensity on the defensive side of the ball after a switch to zone coverage from the man-to-man the Irish had been planning to play the whole game.

“I think just the energy on defense [allowed us to turn it around],” McGraw said. “I think we looked a little flat at the beginning. They were kind of shooting it right in our face; we really were not defending well, not great help defense. I think the zone is what changed it.”

Although Virginia Tech was able to climb back within arm’s length toward the end of the second quarter, as the half finished 34-29 in Notre Dame’s favor, the Hokies’ production did not click into gear in the second half and Virginia Tech struggled to keep its head above water until the final buzzer. McGraw attributed her team’s strong, 27-point third quarter to sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale, who picked up her first career double-double against the Hokies with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“Arike [had her] first career double-double I think, and her first of many I hope,” McGraw said. “I thought she played very well. … I thought Arike kind of took over the game for a few minutes [in the third quarter]. She was driving the ball; she’s really hard to guard when she drives the ball, you know, and we made some shots, we got some easy layups off the back cuts on the zone. I thought we executed really well. And then we got some stops. I mean, that was the key.”

Notre Dame took its offensive output to another level after halftime, as Ogunbowale and Mabrey found their grooves. It was another day in the office for junior forward Brianna Turner, who tallied 13 points, and senior guard Lindsay Allen was on triple-double watch for much of the game. Allen finished with seven rebounds, nine assists and eight points. McGraw noticed a marked improvement in her team after halftime.

“I thought we executed really well in the second half,” McGraw said. “We had trouble finding the open man in the first half, so to end with 22 assists, that was great. I was really happy with the way we moved the ball around in the second half.”

While the Irish came away with the win, they found themselves in uncharacteristic foul trouble as Turner and Mabrey both picked up their fourth personal fouls with more than half the fourth quarter to play. However, according to Ogunbowale, the bench was able to keep the team in control.

“I think we can go really deep on the bench,” Ogunbowale said. “Everyone can drive and shoot, so I think that’s a plus.”

Notre Dame’s turnover trouble, however, was all too familiar. After giving up five turnovers in the game’s opening minutes, the team was able to ebb the turnover rate slightly, but ended the game with a total of 18. McGraw discussed the fact that she feels turnovers are the main contributor in what is holding her team back.

“We have to get smarter,” McGraw said. “I think it’s all turnovers and rebounding [to improve]. I think that is the key for us. We turn the ball over way too much. Because we shoot it pretty well. So if we can get possessions, we’re gonna score. So, I would say turnovers, that’s our Achilles’ heel right now.”

McGraw felt the final score was not fully representative of the talent the Hokies have on their roster and the threat they could pose for the rest of the season and the conference.

“They’re a really good team,” McGraw said. “I watched the Tennessee game from earlier in the year and they’re capable of beating every team in this league. I really think the momentum has fallen off a little bit for them and it’s just going to take, I think, one player to just turn that around.

“I think they’re a dangerous team, they shoot the ball really well, they take you five-out. It’s hard for the bigs to guard on the perimeter. They really work their offense well. They’re kind of a scary team. They’re the kind of team you don’t want to play again.”

While the win over Virginia Tech had its ups and downs, McGraw felt there were plenty of positive takeaways, but that the Irish need to grow if they are going to reach their goal of winning a national title.

“I’ll tell you, we have stretches where we’re as good as anybody in the country,” McGraw said. “And we’re waiting to put a game together where we look that way.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a junior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident of McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is the current Sports Editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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