ND Women’s Basketball
Irish claim sixth straight conference title with win over Seminoles
Daniel O'Boyle | Monday, February 27, 2017
ACC play for Notre Dame in 2016-17 started in the worst possible way — a 70-62 defeat to North Carolina State in which the Irish never led.
But the season ended the way it did the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that one, too.
Just like the every other season No. 5 Notre Dame (27-3, 15-1 ACC) has spent in the ACC, the Irish finished as outright regular season champions and the top seed for the conference tournament.
And though retaining the conference crown looked to be in doubt for much of the season, it was barely in doubt during Sunday’s clash with fellow ACC contender No. 8 Florida State (25-5, 13-3). The Irish built an early lead they never relinquished and ran out comfortable 79-61 winners.
The Seminoles came into the game knowing a victory would earn them a share of the ACC regular season title and the top seed for the conference tournament, but in the opening minutes only the Irish looked like conference contenders.
The Irish raced to a 7-0 lead and were ahead 12-3 within three minutes when Florida State called a timeout. The Seminoles soon cut the lead to 14-9, but the Irish again took control, with a layup from senior guard Lindsay Allen just before the buzzer giving Notre Dame a 25-15 lead at the end of the opening period. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw put the strong start down to a mix of attitude and the return of junior forward Kathryn Westbeld to the starting lineup for only the second time in 11 games.
“I think having [Westbeld] back definitely helps,” McGraw said. “Having that kind of experience helps. It was that kind of game though where everyone was ready. We have some games where [sophomore guard] Arike [Ogunbowale] starts out shooting really well, some where [sophomore guard] Marina [Mabrey] started really well, but this time everybody was really in the zone and ready to go. I think the attitude was really good today.”
The Irish widened their lead even further at the start of the second quarter, as junior forward Brianna Turner added six unanswered points. Although the Seminoles hit six consecutive field goals to cut the lead to 11, the quarter ended with Allen hitting a jumper to give the Irish a 43-30 halftime lead.
Just like the previous two periods, the Irish began the third quarter on top, widening their lead to 19 points thanks to a Turner layup. Just when it looked like the Irish could stroll to victory, however, the Seminoles clawed their way back into the game, if only for a moment.
Within the final 80 seconds of the period, Florida State scored eight unanswered points, followed by two more on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, cutting the Irish lead from 59-40 to 59-50. After giving up a 15-point lead to Tennessee and seeing a lead at Clemson slip to two points after leading by as much as 17, McGraw said there was some concern her team would again struggle to close the game out.
“We have had that problem,” McGraw said. “I think having those close games against Clemson and Syracuse have given us some confidence in that situation, though. We righted things pretty quickly, though: We just got Lindsay back, got [Westbeld] back in and with our starters we looked a lot better.”
This time though, the Irish put the game away with ease. A Kathryn Westbeld 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock brought Notre Dame’s lead up to double-digits again, and the Irish continued to roll through the final period.
After Westbeld grabbed an offensive board with 51 seconds remaining, the crowd at Purcell Pavilion took to its feet to honor the ACC regular season champions. Ogunbowale ended that possession in style by knocking down a 3-pointer, and a Florida State basket in the final 20 seconds did little to dampen the crowd’s spirits as the Irish secured the victory.
“That was probably the best game we’ve played all year,” McGraw said. “Offensively we shot the ball well in every quarter. Defensively our zone was very good. We had a little upheaval in the third quarter but that was the only negative.”
Turner scored 24 points and recorded five blocks for the Irish, while Allen recorded nine assists, which tied Mary Gavin’s career record of 778. Ogunbowale added 19 points, shooting 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
The win gave the Irish both the ACC regular season title and the top seed for the ACC tournament. McGraw said she was impressed with the way the team bounced back from early losses, including its conference opener.
“We were anointed early on and didn’t handle it well, but we were able to earn our way back and I think this says a lot about this team and who they are,” McGraw said. “We wondered about the toughness when we were taking our lumps early, and I think they’ve really showed us a lot the way they came out today and played so hard. I love where they’re at right now.”
The top-seeded Irish will play their first game of the ACC tournament on Friday against the winners of Virginia and Wake Forest’s second-round clash. Tipoff will be at 2 p.m. in Conway, South Carolina.