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ND Women’s Basketball

Top-ranked Irish hold off Phoenix in preseason NIT semifinals

| Friday, November 18, 2016

No. 1 Notre Dame never trailed and led for all but 12 seconds against Green Bay at Purcell Pavilion last night. By midway through the third quarter, it led by 17 points. But the Irish struggled to put the game away, coming out 71-67 winners over the Phoenix in the preseason NIT semifinals.

Both teams struggled to make shots in the first quarter, as the Irish (3-0) took an early 7-0 lead and led 14-8 as the quarter ended. Notre Dame was 4-for-18 on its field goal attempts in the quarter, while the Phoenix (2-1) went 3-for-13 from the field. The Irish also forced nine Phoenix turnovers in the period. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said the Phoenix made it difficult for the Irish to run their offense.

“They make it tough for you to run your stuff because they bump you on cuts and make it tough to run the inside game,” McGraw said. “But I think this was a good lesson for us. I think we good a pretty good experience of this against Fordham, but they didn’t really shoot the ball well, so we didn’t notice that we weren’t playing so well.

“So I think this was good this time of the year to have a game like that. I thought we had some good plays at the end when we had to, but overall, it was really disappointing. We looked like a young team — I think we were the younger team on the floor, but I think we can play a lot smarter.”

The second quarter saw a sudden offensive burst, as sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale scored 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, each answered by Green Bay, before sophomore guard Marina Mabrey added a 3-pointer of her own, which was again followed by the same from the Phoenix. The Irish scored the final six points of the half, including a layup from Ogunbowale in the final seconds, to lead 41-30 at halftime. Junior forward Brianna Turner said the team struggled to defend Green Bay from beyond the 3-point arc.

“We weren’t getting on the 3-point line,” Turner said. “They had some really good 3-point shooters, and we just had to get out there and get a hand up.”

After the Phoenix scored the first points of the second half, the Irish began an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 17 points. But from there, Green Bay slowly worked their way back into the game. A 9-0 run saw the game back within eight points, although four straight points from junior forward Kathryn Westbeld gave the Irish a 55-43 cushion going into the fourth quarter.

Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld looks to pass the ball during Notre Dame’s 71-67 win over Green Bay on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.Allison Culver | The Observer
Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld looks to pass the ball during Notre Dame’s 71-67 win over Green Bay on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.

The Phoenix continued to chip away, though. The lead was cut to just five points with just under four minutes remaining thanks to a jumper from junior forward Jessica Lindstrom, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds on the night. The game was only put away with 16 seconds remaining, when Mabrey made two free throws to bring the lead back to seven points. Green Bay added a final 3, their 12th of the night, but by that point the game was out of reach with only three seconds left on the clock. McGraw said she hoped for a better performance from her defense, but she praised the Phoenix in getting back into the game.

“I was really disappointed in our defense,” McGraw said. “I thought we worked on guarding them off the flare screens, but we just weren’t able to get it done in the game. So we’ll watch a lot of film and see where we broke down. I think they’re a terrific team, though. They’re smart, they’re poised, they’re well-coached [and] they’re disciplined.

“Offensively, they were really hard to guard, and defensively, they made it really difficult for us to get the ball in the post, which is really what we’ve seen the first couple of games — that teams are going to be really physical with us — so we’ve got to be able to handle that a little bit better. I thought [Turner] really battled inside but wasn’t able to finish as much as I would have liked. So I think the offense really was a little ragged. We can play better offensively, and I know we can play better defensively.”

McGraw added that her team knows to expect their opponents to be prepared to face a top-ranked Notre Dame, but that it’s nothing the team hasn’t coped with before in other seasons.

“Everybody’s going to give you their best shot when you’re ranked anywhere in the top five, and we have to be prepared for that,” McGraw said. “And I think we are mentally prepared. But everybody’s good, and we’ve got some things to work on. We’re not exactly in top form right now. But they’re a veteran team, and they came in and looked like it.”

The Irish will play Washington in the finale of the preseason NIT on Sunday after the Huskies (3-0) defeated Missouri, 79-66. The Huskies are led by All-American senior guard Kelsey Plum, who averaged 25.9 points per game last season and scored 32 last night in the victory over the Tigers (2-1) to bring her average this season to 30.

Tip-off between the Irish and Huskies is 3 p.m. Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

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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