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ND Women’s Basketball

After signature win over Louisville, ND looks to stay hot in ACC play against Virginia Tech

| Wednesday, January 16, 2019

After recording wins over Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, head coach Muffet McGraw and the top-ranked Irish proved they’re still the team to beat by defeating their toughest conference rival — Louisville. This time last year, the Irish returned from the KFC Yum! Center defeated, having been routed 100-67 by the Cardinals. One year later, Notre Dame successfully flipped the script, beating No. 2 Louisville 82-68 while overcoming deficits and a late-game comeback effort.

“That was just a great basketball game I thought for one versus two,” McGraw said. “Both teams had the lead, both teams had to fight back.”

Although the second-ranked Cardinals (15-1, 3-1 ACC) controlled the tempo throughout the first half, neither team was able to gain significant separation, with the largest lead of the half being seven by Louisville, thanks to a 19-point first-half performance by senior guard Asia Durr. However, Notre Dame (16-1, 4-0 ACC) was able to keep things competitive with five unanswered free throws to return to the locker room down two.

Although McGraw was disappointed by the defensive efforts against Durr, she said her team’s bigger problems came on the offensive end, struggling to establish any momentum with 11 first-half turnovers.

“We weren’t getting any flow on the offense,” McGraw said. “We didn’t have any rhythm on the offense. We were putting it on the floor a little too much, we were a little out of sync with what we we’re running, I didn’t think we were getting the motion that we needed.”

Notre Dame returned to the court ready to make adjustments, only committing two turnovers throughout the third quarter and taking a 10-point lead, sparked by senior guard Arike Ogunbowale’s seven points in the final four minutes of the frame.

However, like any matchup between elite teams, the Cardinals refused to lay down quietly. After Notre Dame extended its lead to 12 at the beginning of the final frame, the Cardinals began to apply pressure, delivering a balanced offensive attack to cut the lead to two with less than three minutes remaining. However, a layup by graduate student forward Brianna Turner, followed by 12 unanswered points by Ogunbowale — seven of which were from the charity stripe — helped stop the comeback and earned the Irish a signature victory.

Although this win serves to remind teams around the league that the championship is still Notre Dame’s to lose, McGraw said she doesn’t want her team to lose sight of the season ahead.

“We shouldn’t put too much on it right now. It’s another game in January,” she said. “It’s a big game, it’s a huge win. It’s definitely going to be a stepping-stone for us. We’ve got so many games coming up, we can’t really relax.”

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior forward Jessica Shepard dribbles in the paint during Notre Dame’s 89-71 loss to UConn on Dec. 2 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish looked to continue their win streak three days later when they hosted Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (9-7, 0-3 ACC) entered South Bend on a two-game losing streak, having yet to win a conference game, and would prove unsuccessful in their upset effort against the Irish. After Notre Dame put up 18-straight unanswered points to open the game, Wake Forest managed to get on the board with six points to end the first quarter.

After a relatively quiet seven-point, 15-rebound performance against Louisville several days prior, senior forward Jessica Shepard once again proved a force to be reckoned with in the paint, scoring eight points in the opening quarter. The lead only extended throughout the second and third quarters as the Irish continued to deliver a balanced attack featuring the post duo of Turner and Shepard, and senior guard Marina Mabrey.

“I was really pleased defensively,” McGraw said. “Through three quarters I thought we played pretty well defensively.”

The Demon Deacons managed to cut into the lead slightly in the fourth quarter, but were unable to overcome the 37-point advantage the Irish had built, with only two of their players scoring in the double digits.

Mabrey tallied 18 points against the Demon Deacons, going four-for-seven from beyond the arc, collecting seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. McGraw commended Mabrey for her leadership and presence in setting the pace for the Irish offense.

Meanwhile, Turner recorded a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds in addition to Shepard’s 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Notre Dame maintained its perfect conference record with a 78-48 win over Wake Forest.

“Such a good one-two punch,” McGraw said of Turner and Shepard. “People really have a hard time guarding them. … They’re really finding themselves.”

The Irish will continue ACC play as they travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on Virginia Tech on Wednesday. The unranked Hokies are led in the backfield by a familiar face in freshman Dara Mabrey, the youngest of the Mabrey girls, with Marina currently on the Irish roster and her older sister Michaela having played for McGraw from 2012 to 2016. Dara Mabrey is averaging 12 points and has started in all 16 games of her freshman season. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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