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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish take home fifth straight conference championship with win over Duke

| Monday, March 6, 2017

Through the second quarter of Notre Dame’s ACC semifinal clash with No. 14 Louisville, senior guard Lindsay Allen did something she didn’t do often: She stayed seated on the bench and remained there for the entire quarter, after getting into early foul trouble.

With the Irish (30-3, 15-1 ACC) only leading the Cardinals (27-7, 12-4) by a point, having trailed for much of the quarter and not being able to count on sophomore backup point guard Ali Patberg due to injury, it was a less-than-ideal situation for Irish head coach Muffet McGraw. Not least because of the way it resembled the beginning of Notre Dame’s 90-84 NCAA tournament defeat to Stanford the previous year.

Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen dribbles past a defender during Notre Dame’s 79-61 win over Florida State on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen dribbles past a defender during Notre Dame’s 79-61 win over Florida State on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion.

For the final minute the Irish played in this year’s ACC tournament, Allen was on the bench. But it was not against Louisville, and it was not because of fouls.

Allen came off the court because the Irish had secured a fifth consecutive conference championship and fourth in the ACC thanks to an 84-61 victory over No. 13 Duke, after beating Louisville 84-73 and Virginia 76-59 before that.

And Allen was at the center of it all, recording 33 assists in the three games and breaking the Irish and ACC career assist records along the way, as well as picking up the MVP award to close out her ACC career.

In the quarterfinal clash with Virginia (19-12, 7-9), the Irish made a 13-3 run between the first and second quarters giving the Irish a 23-14 lead. Although the Cavaliers quickly tied the score at 23-23, the Irish regained the lead by halftime, holding a 36-32 advantage.

Notre Dame made an 8-0 run early in the third quarter and led 57-47 at its conclusion, before cruising through the fourth quarter to win by a final score of 76-59. McGraw said she was particularly impressed with her team’s second-half defensive performance.

“I think Virginia’s a great team, I hope they make the NCAA tournament,” McGraw said. “They’re definitely deserving of a bid. They’ve got a great young team, they’re talented, they play hard and they’ve had a great year.

“I was really pleased with our poise in the second half, I thought we played better defensively in the second half. In the first, we made some mistakes, but we were able to get it together in the second half.”

Against Louisville, the Irish trailed 7-2 after just under four minutes. After Allen’s two first-quarter fouls, sophomore guard Marina Mabrey ran the point for the second quarter, but the Irish held on to keep the score tied when Allen returned with 11 seconds left in the quarter.

“I thought Marina did a great job in a lot of ways,” McGraw said. “When Lindsay got her second foul, she had to play an entire quarter at the point which she hasn’t really done all year long, she kept us even.”

In the third quarter, the Irish led by as much as seven, but only held a two-point lead going into the final period, before the Irish pulled away to win by 11 after late free throws from freshman guard Jackie Young and junior forward Kathryn Westbeld.

Against Duke (27-5, 13-3), the Irish offense got off to a nearly perfect start, with 27 first-quarter points and five assists in the period from Allen. The Irish extended their lead in the second quarter, leading 43-31 at halftime. Junior guard Lexie Brown carried the Blue Devils offense, scoring 16 points.

Three minutes into the second half, the Irish lead looked in danger, as a 10-0 Duke run cut the Irish lead down to two points and forced McGraw to call a timeout.

From there, the Irish took back control. Notre Dame scored the next 14 points, on their way to a comfortable victory. McGraw said she told the team at the timeout to get the ball to junior forward Brianna Turner.

“I thought the secret for us was finally getting the ball to Bri,” McGraw said. “She was [2-for-3] at halftime, we didn’t look inside nearly enough. We went in to her and that opened things up on the outside for us to make some shots.”

Allen had 11 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Irish on the way to the win, while sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale led the Irish in scoring with 21 points. Ogunbowale said she enjoyed playing alongside Allen, mostly because of her pass-first style of play.

“What she’s done the whole season shows that you don’t need to score all the points to be the MVP,” Ogunbowale said. “She’s the MVP even without as many points. The assists and finding people, she does so well. She’s an amazing point guard and I love playing with her.”

Brown was held scoreless in the second half for the Blue Devils, and McGraw said shutting down Brown was the key to the team’s win.

“She’s a terrific player,” McGraw said. “She is so hard to guard. Sixteen in the first half and I thought the difference in the game was that we held her scoreless in the second half.”

With the win, a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament appears likely for Notre Dame, as does a home appearance in the opening rounds. The Irish will discover their fate for the tournament next Monday, and the first-round game for the Irish will be played March 17 or 18.

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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