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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish pull away in second half to down Duke

| Monday, February 5, 2018

With only six players seeing any significant minutes and three playing the entire game, it would typically be difficult to see how No. 5 Notre Dame could take it up another notch late in a game. Yet Irish head coach Muffet McGraw’s team has achieved in recent weeks in spite of injuries has defied expectations before, and the Irish did exactly that again against No. 19 Duke, pulling away late on to defeat the Blue Devils, 72-54.

After a slow offensive start that saw the Irish (22-2, 10-1 ACC) trail 5-1 after three minutes and 27 seconds of play, Notre Dame went on a 10-0 run, holding the Blue Devils (19-6, 7-4 ACC) scoreless for just under five minutes. However, Duke fought back, finishing the quarter with a 3-pointer from redshirt-senior guard Rebecca Greenwell to end the low-scoring period at 13-12 in favor of the Irish.

Sarah Olson | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Jackie Young drives around a defender during Notre Dame’s 94-62 win over North Carolina on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.

Though the game was billed as a clash between the ACC’s two top scorers in Duke redshirt-senior guard Lexie Brown and Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale, who had scored 20.6 and 20.1 points per game, respectively, before the matchup both struggled early on, as Brown ended the first quarter 1-for-4 with two turnovers, while Ogunbowale was scoreless in the period on 0-of-5 shooting.

The Blue Devils took the lead early in the second period thanks to an athletic play from sophomore forward Leanna Odom off of an inbounds pass and the teams traded leads for the next three minutes before a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Jackie Young gave the Irish a four-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the second. By halftime, the Irish led 33-29, having held the Duke to 37 percent shooting and only one free throw attempt, but having allowed the Blue Devils to grab nine offensive rebounds.

McGraw said Duke’s combination of Greenwell and Brown, as well as Odom and senior center Erin Mathias, caused difficulties for her team and kept the game close in the first half.

“They’re a tough team to guard,” McGraw said. “They have shooters like Greenwell — Lexie Brown is so tough to guard and she got to the basket a lot, certainly more than I would like — and the bigs did really well too, especially in the first half.”

With the Irish roster depleted by ACL injuries to four players, McGraw said she was concerned about her team committing early fouls, but strong second-half discipline ensured the Irish lack of depth would not be exposed.

“I was worried in the first half, because we got a couple of players with fouls,” McGraw said. “I was worried about that and that’s why we played less man-to-man and more zone. We were able to go more man in the second half, after I was more comfortable with the foul situation.”

Duke stayed with the Irish for much of the third quarter, but the Irish began to pull away with a 12-2 run in the final four minutes of the quarter, although a 3 from Greenwell put the score at 54-46 with one quarter remaining.

After Duke cut slightly into the Irish lead, a 10-0 run for Notre Dame, capped by a deep 3-pointer from junior guard Marina Mabrey, essentially put the game out of reach with the Irish ahead 68-52 with under four minutes remaining, before eventually winning by a score of 72-54. McGraw said her team’s ability to pull away late despite a lack of depth is a testament to their fitness.

“I think we’re in tremendous shape,” McGraw said. “We’ve been playing six, and they know they’re all going to be in the game a lot. They do have moments where they’re resting, particularly on defense and we need to buy them a few minutes here and there, but they want to play and they can figure it out. They’re working really hard at practice and they’re in great shape.”

McGraw added that the team’s success has been especially impressive to her due to the fact that her squad has been so depleted and playing so consistently throughout the year.

“I’m so proud of this team,” McGraw said. “We have been on an incredible grind, this season is long, we haven’t had a bye, we’ve had to play another ranked team on the road and it’s really been a battle of mental toughness.”

The Irish shot 9-of-18 from 3-point range, with Mabrey leading the way with 18 points while adding five steals. Young added 17 points on 6-9 shooting and added seven assists. Junior forward Jessica Shepard recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds.

The Irish will have an opportunity to rest this week before playing Georgia Tech this Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Tipoff is at 1 p.m.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel