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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish swing upset in Atlanta, beat Georgia Tech 59-51

| Monday, February 3, 2020

Entering Sunday, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team was 2-7 in the ACC and 7-14 overall, with their only conference wins over a struggling Miami team and the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh squad. They had lost three straight on the road and everything pointed to a bad recipe heading into Sunday’s road matchup vs. Georgia Tech. While the Yellow Jackets are not an ACC powerhouse, they entered the game 14-7 and 5-5 in the conference, both far superior marks to the Irish. 

Hannah Huelskamp | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert makes a move towards the hoop during Notre Dame’s 76-53 victory over the University of Miami at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 19.

Yet, the Irish defied the numbers, and, behind standout performances from junior center Mikayla Vaughn and graduate student guard Destinee Walker, marched into Atlanta and took down Georgia Tech 59-51 in a huge confidence-boosting victory.

Vaughn notched 20 points on 10 of 15 shots to go along with her seven rebounds, while Walker chipped in with 15 points, making up for an unusually quiet night from star freshman forward Sam Brunelle. The Irish did not make a 3-pointer all game, but their efficient 47% shooting from the field and lockdown defense allowed them to edge out the Yellow Jackets on the day. 

The first quarter was a tightly contested and low-scoring battle, which turned out to be an indicator for how the rest of the game would play out. Neither team led by more than two points in the frame. In another preview of the rest of the game, the Irish got all of their points on layups, while forcing the Yellow Jackets into a series of mid-range jumpers. While Georgia Tech kept pace for the first 10 minutes, keeping the score tied at 12 after a quarter, the approach proved unsustainable. 

The offenses stayed sluggish throughout the first half, as neither team could establish any consistent scoring. Georgia Tech extended their lead to 20-16, but they quickly saw it cut down to 24-23 at halftime. No Yellow Jacket player had more than four points at halftime, while the Irish got 10 points from Vaughn, six from Walker, and five from sophomore guard Kaitlyn Gilbert. 

After a Georgia Tech free throw, both teams traded 6-0 runs to start the second half — the biggest spurt by either team all game. However, down 31-29, Walker hit a pair of free throws for the Irish with 6:41 to go in the quarter, erasing Notre Dame’s final deficit of the game. After trading points for a few minutes, Gilbert drilled a jumper with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter, giving Notre Dame the lead for good. After the Yellow Jackets cut the lead back down to one, the Irish ripped off another 6-0 spurt, giving themselves a 42-35 cushion heading into the final frame. The Irish held the Yellow Jackets to just two field goals in the period, as part of a stellar defensive effort that held Georgia Tech to just 30% shooting from the field, including 2-16 from long range. 

Although the Irish made their money scoring layups on Sunday, they used some clutch shooting from the free throw line to polish off their upset victory. After outscoring the Yellow Jackets 32-8 on layups, Notre Dame scored 9 of 15 points from the charity stripe. After an extremely quiet first three quarters, Brunelle knocked down a jumper and then hit three free throws to give the Irish their largest lead of the night at 52-39. The Yellow Jackets never got any closer than seven points, as the Irish sealed the result with relative ease. 

Overall, the Irish took advantage of their easy shots — scoring 49 of their 59 points on layups or free throws, while allowing the Yellow Jackets just 19 points of the same variety. Despite their offense stalling out on several occasions, their spectacular defense was enough to pull out the win in Atlanta. 

Notre Dame improves to 8-14 and 3-7 in conference play. They visit Wake Forest on Thursday before returning home for a matchup against Pittsburgh in a week. 

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