CANCUN, Mexico — Freshman Anaya Peoples capped a sparkling weekend, this time doing so while popping off the bench.
It helped Notre Dame pop off the Cancun Challenge mat with a 67-51 victory over No. 21 South Florida in the finale Saturday of its three-game women’s basketball set at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.
In front of just 174 basketball fans, Peoples poured in 16 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, added a game-high three steals and notched a team-high nine rebounds as the Irish pulled away after the intermission to end their two-game skid.
Notre Dame (5-4) dodged going winless in a multi-game, in-season basketball event for what would’ve been the first time in 25 years, and avoided what would’ve been its first three-game losing streak overall in more than 12 years.
Leading 37-34 midway through the third quarter, the Irish went on a 12-1 spree for a 49-35 advantage by the final minute of that period.
They stayed relentlessly on the attack in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Bulls 12-5 in the first four minutes to effectively seal the game at 61-42 with six to go.
Destinee Walker scored 17 points over a game-high 37 minutes for ND, Kaitlyn Gilbert added 11 points and eight rebounds, and freshman Sam Brunelle chipped in 10 points. Gilbert, a sophomore, has scored in double digits in all nine games this season.
Marta Sniezek delivered another feisty floor show that included drawing four opposition offensive fouls for the second consecutive day.
The grad transfer also mixed in six points, six rebounds, a game-high five assists, a steal and a block against three turnovers over 34 minutes before fouling out at 46 seconds remaining.
South Florida (5-4), sure to drop out of the national rankings after going 0-3 at the Challenge, was paced by Elena Tsineke with 12 points. Shae Leverett added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Bethy Mununga, who was leading the Bulls at 12.3 points and 10.6 rebounds going in, finished at four points and 10 boards.
Peoples, the star among the Irish in Cancun, finished the trip with 52 points, 26 rebounds and eight steals. The 5-foot-10 guard shot 20-of-32 from the field, buffering her 11-of-19 at the line.
Saturday’s game marked the second time Peoples didn’t start for ND. She also played a reserve role in the team’s 76-72 win a week earlier at then-No. 21 Michigan, responding to that altered assignment with 13 points, five boards and two steals in 30 minutes.
Irish coach Muffet McGraw said before the Cancun trip that she might utilize Peoples that way again based on size matchups and/or a desire to provide more spark from the bench.
Sophomore forward Danielle Cosgrove, getting her second career start by way of the lineup shift, provided 22 sound minutes against South Florida with five points, three rebounds and three assists.
Notre Dame led 25-24 at halftime before putting together one of its best quarters of the season in the third.
That period featured the Irish outscoring the Bulls 24-13, hitting 9-of-14 shots from the field with three 3-pointers and committing just one turnover on the heels of coughing up 11 during the first half.
ND finished the day 6-of-15 outside the arc — those six makes coming from five players — after sinking just 4-of-29 over its first two games here.
South Florida, meanwhile, converted just 8-of-41 triple tries against the Irish, who mixed mostly zone defenses with occasional traps and occasional man-to-man.
ND was 19-of-37 inside the arc for 51% to the Bulls’ 12-of-31 for 39%.
The Irish, who raced to a 17-6 advantage in fast-break points, proved potent enough to overcome their 11-of-22 at the line while limiting South Florida to five attempts there.
The Bulls, besides winning the battle for second-chance points at 17-5, outrebounded ND 46-38.
Yet, that still amounted to a win of sorts for the Irish relative to a stark difference in the team’s season stats. South Florida entered the day at plus-11.4 per game on the glass to ND’s minus-9.8.
The Irish return home to host Minnesota on Wednesday as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.
NOTRE DAME 67, NO. 21 SOUTH FLORIDA 51
SOUTH FLORIDA (5-4): Brabencova 0-4 0-0 0, Henshaw 0-2 0-0 0, Mununga 2-4 0-0 4, Alvarez 3-14 0-0 8, Tsineke 4-14 0-0 12, Leverett 4-6 3-4 11, Jordao 0-2 0-0 0, Pehadzic 2-9 0-0 6, Pinzan 2-11 0-1 4, Septe 3-6 0-0 6, Totals 20-72 3-5 51.<
NOTRE DAME (5-4): Brunelle 4-13 0-0 10, Cosgrove 1-2 2-4 5, Gilbert 5-9 0-2 11, Sniezek 3-4 0-0 6, Walker 6-16 4-7 17, Cole 0-1 0-0 0, Peoples 6-7 5-9 18, Totals 25-52 11-22 67.
South Florida 9 15 13 14 — 51
Notre Dame 13 12 24 18 — 67
3-Point Goals—South Florida 8-41 (Brabencova 0-2, Alvarez 2-13, Tsineke 4-12, Pehadzic 2-7, Pinzan 0-7), Notre Dame 6-15 (Brunelle 2-5, Cosgrove 1-1, Gilbert 1-1, Walker 1-7, Peoples 1-1). Assists—South Florida 14 (Pinzan 3), Notre Dame 13 (Sniezek 5). Fouled Out—Notre Dame Sniezek. Rebounds—South Florida 46 (Mununga 10), Notre Dame 38 (Peoples 9). Total Fouls—South Florida 20, Notre Dame 13. Technical Fouls—None.A—174.