ND Women’s Basketball
Louisville breaks Notre Dame’s ACC championship streak with last-minute push
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, March 5, 2018
It is said there is a first time for everything. That was the case for No. 5 Notre Dame on Sunday, who was unable to claim the ACC tournament title for the first time since joining the conference.
The Irish failed to make history as the first team to win both the regular-season title and tournament title in five-consecutive seasons, as No. 1-seed Louisville took down the Irish for the second time this season, this time in a nail-biter of a game with 14 lead changes.
The Cardinals (32-2, 15-1 ACC) took a lead of as much as five points during the first quarter, but the Irish (29-3, 15-1) were able to scramble back as junior forward Jessica Shepard single-handedly scored Notre Dame’s next seven points, bringing the game to a tie at 19 points apiece. The two teams headed into the first break tied at 21.
The game was back-and-forth in the second quarter, as the Cardinals took the lead on the first shot of the quarter when redshirt-junior guard Arica Carter drained a 3. The Irish kept pace, however, as graduate student forward Kristina Nelson hit a jumper 20 seconds later to keep Notre Dame within reach. It was senior forward Kathryn Westbeld’s layup with 7:49 remaining in the half that put the Irish on top — briefly. The two teams traded leads for the rest of the quarter, and ultimately, the Irish headed into halftime with a 37-35 lead.
After the half, the game continued in a similar manner — the Irish built a lead of as much as five points, but the Cardinals managed to reclaim the lead and build up a five-point cushion of their own, for the most part thanks to the efforts of senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen and junior forward Sam Fuehring.
It was not until the game’s final two minutes that Notre Dame’s fate was sealed.
Down by one with 1:42 to play, the Irish were attempting to keep their heads above water, as Louisville took over possession after a layup from Notre Dame sophomore guard Jackie Young.
Notre Dame was able to prevent a Louisville bucket, as Shepard blocked Carter’s jumper attempt, but Young turned the ball over on her way back up the court and Fuehring was able to add three more points to the Cardinals’ total with 24 seconds remaining in the game, after picking up the and-one on an intentional foul from junior guard Marina Mabrey.
“I think our execution was poor for most of the game,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said of her squad’s uncharacteristic mistakes as the game clock ticked down. “I think our guards didn’t handle the pressure well and we weren’t able to execute.”
Mabrey, with two fouls to give, sent Carter to the line once again and the Cardinals were up four with 18 seconds to play.
But Young turned the ball over again, forcing junior guard Arike Ogunbowale to send junior guard and ACC Player of the Year Asia Durr to the line to shoot two. She knocked them both down.
Ogunbowale quickly drained a 3 to make it a one-possession game once again with four seconds left, but Durr went to the line and knocked down two more free throws, putting the game out of reach for the Irish, despite a last-ditch 3 that Ogunbowale drained from half-court as the buzzer sounded. Ultimately, the Irish were unable to come back and handed Louisville its second win over Notre Dame this season, 74-72.
“We turned it over, drove the ball and just lost the handle,” McGraw said of the game’s final seconds. “It was just a great defensive play by them.”
McGraw credited Louisville’s ability to come up with the shots when it mattered as a difference-maker in the game, saying her team was unable to make plays when it mattered.
“I thought that Louisville played a really good game. I thought they made big shots when they had to. They got some huge offensive rebounds,” she said. “I thought the offensive rebound kick out was probably the dagger and the game-winning shot. We had some opportunities that we squandered but our execution wasn’t quite as good but I think that’s because of their defense. They really did a great job defensively. We were not able to really see the mismatches when we had them.”
Overall, the Cardinals were able to distribute their offense more effectively than the Irish, as Carter, Durr, Hines-Allen and Fuehring each finished with 15 points or more, while the Irish leaned heavily on Shepard, who collected a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds and was named Second-Team All Tournament, and Ogunbowale, who tallied 20 points. No other Irish players managed to hit double-digit point totals. McGraw felt the Cardinals were able to shut Mabrey down especially effectively.
“I thought their pressure was really good. They were switching,” she said. “They really weren’t going to let Marina get free for anything today.”
Ogunbowale and Mabrey were named to the All Tournament team, as the Irish went 9-for-9 from the field down the stretch.
Looking forward, the Irish have yet to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which begins March 16, but Shepard feels that the team has some cleaning up to do before then.
“Obviously, that’s why I came to Notre Dame is to compete for championships,” the junior transfer said. “For us there’s a lot to learn from that game. I think the emphasis Coach has been putting on the little things, it got exploited and there are things we have to fix if we want to reach our goals.”