Even the equivalent of more than a full quarter to chill on the Notre Dame sideline couldn’t cool off lately blazing Destinee Walker.
Walker, working through foul trouble, poured in 24 points over 26 minutes, and Katlyn Gilbert added 17 points, as the Irish blitzed Pittsburgh, 74-52, for their season-high third straight women’s basketball victory Sunday evening at Purcell Pavilion.
Walker punctuated being nearly unstoppable by draining a left-wing 3-pointer mere seconds after returning to the game following 11 straight minutes sidelined by four fouls.
“I think the whole time that I was sitting on the bench, I just wanted to come in and provide energy for my team,” said Walker, whose triple immediately upon her return gave Notre Dame a 63-48 lead with 7:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Irish moved to 10-14 overall, 5-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Panthers dropped to 4-19 and 1-11.
“While I was out, and while Sam was out,” Walker said, referring to freshman Sam Brunelle, who also navigated foul concerns on her way to 10 points over 16 minutes, “Katlyn Gilbert held it down. So when we got back in, we were just trying to provide as much momentum and energy as we could.”
In Walker’s case especially, the provisions were once again substantial.
The grad-transfer guard was coming off a 22-point second-half eruption that keyed Notre Dame to a 75-71 comeback win Thursday at Wake Forest.
With Sunday’s outing added, she’s now scored 46 points over her last six quarters — and really over less than her last five given those 11 straight minutes off.
Walker hit 8-of-11 from the field against Pitt, including 4-of-7 outside the arc, and 4-of-5 at the line.
“When she plays well, we play well, so I’m very pleased with her,” ND coach Muffet McGraw said. “She’s really gaining confidence. I think (in between) the last few games, she’s in the gym all the time working on her shot. She’s just really feeling confident. We want her to shoot it a lot, and she’s accepting that role now.”
“My teammates have trust in me, and Coach has a lot of trust in me,” Walker said, “so I’m just trying to build on that and keep my momentum going.”
The Irish trailed the Panthers 17-14 after one quarter, but outscored the visitors 60-35 the rest of the night.
ND led 38-31 at halftime and 57-41 late in the third quarter, before Pitt scored the final seven points of that period.
The Irish, though, held the Panthers scoreless for the first 8:25 of the final quarter, expanding their lead to 72-48.
Brunelle, just like Walker, proved dangerous on the direct heels of a long stretch out.
She sat for the final 7:59 of the first quarter with two fouls, but swished back-to-back treys to start the second period. She then, however, picked up her third foul at 7:48 to go in the second period, missing the rest of the half.
Walker added her third foul at 2:08 remaining before intermission.
ND, for the most part, has avoided serious foul trouble this season, a virtual essential with its lack of depth, but Sunday proved an exception.
“The first half, really disappointed with all the fouls,” McGraw said. “We really showed a lack of discipline, I thought, throughout the half. For Destinee and Sam particularly to get three fouls, with the short bench, it’s really hard to sub at that point. I think we can get better, and I think we did in the second half.”
McGraw declared that “it’s very easy” to not get into foul trouble, mentioning that there are situations that dictate just allowing a field goal.
“They have to move their feet,” McGraw added of other measures. “They have to box out and rebound, because a lot of it was we weren’t containing the ball. We were just slapping at it. I mean, it wasn’t even a close call. It wasn’t like we were trying to take a charge and they called a block, and we were moving apparently on all our screens. I think that’s just focus and a little bit of discipline.”
Point guard Marta Sniezek was whistled for her third foul early in the third quarter and backup sophomore forward Danielle Cosgrove her fourth late in the same period, but neither ever picked up another.
Cosgrove contributed eight points, her second-best output of the season, and connected on multiple 3-pointers for the first time this season, going 2-of-5.
“Cosgrove gave us some great minutes off the bench,” McGraw said, “and I think that’s a really big lift to have her as another weapon from the 3-point line.”
As a team, the Irish hit 9-of-23 from distance, surpassing their previous best for treys by two. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, floundered from long range at 3-of-28.
Amber Brown paced the Panthers with a career-high 17 points and finished 7-of-8 from the field.
Fellow freshman guard Dayshanette Harris added 14 points. Junior guard Gabbie Green made just 2-of-17 shots from the field.
Notre Dame visits Boston College on Thursday, then heads to No. 5 Louisville next Sunday for the last of three straight rematch games.
BC (13-10, 6-6) has won three of its last four, including a 65-56 victory at No. 17 Florida State, while the Cardinals (21-3, 10-2) were surprise 59-51 losers Sunday at Syracuse.
Notre Dame lost at home to both the Eagles and the Cards last month, 75-65 and 86-54.
“Everyone we play from here on in is above us (in the ACC standings),” McGraw said of ND’s six remaining regular-season games, “so every game going in, we’ll be the underdog, and I think that’s a good place for us to be. We just have to worry about playing well. We don’t have to worry about what’s going on in the standings or anything like that. We just have to go in and play our game and kind of loosen up a little bit. I thought we looked a little bit looser — not including me, but the rest of them.”
PITTSBURGH (4-19): Judkins 2-7 1-2 5, Brown 7-8 3-4 17, Green 2-17 4-4 9, Harris 4-14 4-6 14, Hayford 0-8 1-2 1, Igbokwe 2-5 0-0 4, Lamark 0-2 0-0 0, Knight 1-4 0-0 2, Prapa 0-5 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 18-70 13-18 52
NOTRE DAME (10-14): Brunelle 2-8 4-4 10, Vaughn 0-2 2-2 2, Gilbert 7-20 2-4 17, Sniezek 3-3 1-2 7, Walker 8-11 4-5 24, Cosgrove 3-7 0-0 8, Keyes 0-1 0-0 0, Benz 0-1 0-0 0, Cole 2-7 0-0 4, Murdock 0-0 0-0 0, Murdock 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-62 13-17 74
Pittsburgh 17 14 17 4 — 52
Notre Dame 14 24 20 16 — 74
3-Point Goals_Pittsburgh 3-28 (Green 1-12, Harris 2-7, Hayford 0-6, Lamark 0-1, Prapa 0-2), Notre Dame 9-23 (Brunelle 2-7, Gilbert 1-3, Walker 4-7, Cosgrove 2-5, Benz 0-1). Assists_Pittsburgh 11 (Brown 5), Notre Dame 20 (Gilbert 5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Pittsburgh 43 (Igbokwe 6-11), Notre Dame 50 (Cole 3-5). Total Fouls_Pittsburgh 18, Notre Dame 20. Technical Fouls_Pittsburgh Knight 1. A_7,916.