ND Women’s Basketball
Irish start slow, but dominate Yellow Jackets
Daniel O'Boyle | Monday, February 13, 2017
It’s not unusual to see No. 7 Notre Dame start a game slowly before pulling away for a comfortable win.
Trailing before the game even tips off is a little less common.
Yet neither a pre-game technical or a slow first quarter did much to stop the Irish (23-3, 11-1 ACC) running out as easy victors over Georgia Tech by a final margin of 90-69 on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.
In recent weeks, discussions about the Irish starting lineup have centered around whether junior forward Kathryn Westbeld — recovering from an ankle injury — was healthy enough to start. This time there was some extra drama, however, after junior forward and Wooden Award top-20 candidate Brianna Turner was accidentally not listed among the Irish starters. Correcting the error cost Notre Dame a technical foul, which gave the Yellow Jackets (11-14, 3-9) a 1-0 lead after making one of its two attempts from the line.
“I don’t know how it happened, it was obviously just a mistake,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We were going back and forth between Kat and [freshman forward] Erin [Boley], and we put them both in today. That was unfortunate, but it didn’t hurt us.”
Although the Irish looked to have moved on after building a 10-6 lead, the Yellow Jackets fought back with a 13-4 run to lead the game 19-14. Notre Dame regained control before the quarter was finished with an 8-0 run to lead 22-19 as the first period ended.
The Irish stayed in a groove through most of the second period, extending their lead to 41-27 just over halfway through the quarter. The Yellow Jackets closed the the deficit down to single digits with 3-pointers in the final minute of the half, making the halftime score 48-39.
Sophomore guard Marina Mabrey led the Irish in scoring at halftime with 14 points, and McGraw said her offensive consistency has been crucial to the Irish in ACC play this year.
“She’s been really consistent from the start of league play, along with Bri [Turner] and Lindsay [Allen],” McGraw said. “We’ve been able to count on them almost every night for a certain amount of points. She’s been doing a really great job, obviously shooting the ball but also getting assists and playing a smart game defensively.”
Although the Yellow Jackets added four more points to trim the Irish lead to just five, a 14-4 run put Notre Dame back in control and the Irish led 71-56 through three quarters. Although Georgia Tech scored the first six points of the final period, Notre Dame cruised for the remainder of the game, running out eventual 90-69 victors.
The game was in stark contrast to the last meeting of the Irish and the Yellow Jackets, a defensive, slow-paced 55-38 Notre Dame victory in Atlanta in January. McGraw said she was impressed with the offensive improvement but concerned about her team’s ability to get to shooters on defense.
“I thought offensively Marina [Mabrey] and Bri played extremely well,” McGraw said. “[Sophomore guard] Arike [Ogunbowale] had a double-double, I thought it was really great to see her rebounding. I was really disappointed with the defense we played on [freshman guard Francesca Pan]. She played very well, she shot the ball well, she got 24 points. … We need to do a better job identifying who the shooter is, and we did not do that. That’s something we have to continue to work on.
“Defensively I think we still have to get so much better. Offensively I thought the break was working well, transition was good. We handled the press well and did a lot of good things, but defense is still kind of a sticking point with me.”
Turner finished the game with 21 points, nine rebounds and five blocks — after recording six blocks in the last meeting between the teams — while Mabrey scored 25 points. Georgia Tech junior forward Zaire O’Neil, who scored at least 24 points in each of her last three games, was held to only nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“[O’Neil] was a key focus of our defense,” McGraw said. “She had 13 rebounds last time we played, so we tried to keep her off the glass. We were trying to bring the double team, I think she was ready for it so we went back and forth between the double team and sometimes left her alone. Bri did a very good job on her and trying to shoot over Bri I think she got tired at the end of the game. But I thought Bri did a very good job on her.”
The Irish will be in action again Thursday, when they will meet Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum. The game tips off at 7 p.m.