No flinching for Notre Dame women's basketball against Duke

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Duke flinched. That can’t happen against Notre Dame.

The Blue Devils fielded the women’s basketball equivalent of some tall timber across the front line Monday night: 6-foot-5, 6-4, 6-3. Off the bench came 6-4 and… you guessed it … 6-4.

The Irish were dwarfed.

For a while.

But the 63-50 Notre Dame victory was a matter of the Irish forcing the issue.

It took Notre Dame five minutes to corral its first rebound. In the process, Duke led 10-3.

Then, the attitude on the Notre Dame bench seemed to change.

Four straight Irish 3-pointers dropped. Rebounds came a bit easier. And the Irish bench – Madison Cable, Kathryn Westbeld and Markisha Wright - became a factor.

A nine-point Duke lead five minutes into the game became a 10-point Irish advantage by intermission.

This won’t be the last time Notre Dame will be faced with a one-dimensional opponent. Sometimes size. Sometimes 3-point specialists. Sometimes speed.

The Irish, though, are built to adjust to whatever the challenge. That’s why they continue to be among the nation’s elite. That’s why they have an opportunity to get to a point where they could compete with Connecticut for a national championship.

They’re not quite ready to beat the Huskies just yet. But, they’re heading in the right direction.

The most encouraging element to come out of Big Monday’s prime-time event, which kept a large vocal crowd up past its bedtime, was the energy that came off the Irish bench.

While Notre Dame mounted its first-half recovery, the Irish bench outscored Duke’s 15-2. Cable was special, with nine points and six boards. Westbeld was a factor with six points and six rebounds.

The Blue Devils didn’t know what hit them. After Notre Dame’s sixth 3-pointer of the first half, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was beside herself. All she could do was turn to her assistant and throw up her hands in frustration.

She did that a lot Monday night.

The Irish took a big step toward being a dominant team come tournament time.

This wasn’t the same Notre Dame team that had trouble adjusting to the fast-paced game that Florida State played in a fortunate-to-happen six-point Irish victory on Jan. 2. This was a more confident group.

Brianna Turner, the 6-3 freshman Irish post, had to get beat on the boards a couple times before she amped up the intensity and started using her elbows to establish her territory.

Once Duke realized it was beaten at its own game – the Irish began to have their way in the paint – there was nowhere to turn.

That’s how double-digit victories are made.

This was more than just one win. This was a performance that sent a message to the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Notre Dame’s bench has talent. The Irish can adjust to whatever comes their way. And they’re too good to lose to a one-dimensional opponent.

These Irish don’t flinch.

Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd reacts to an offensive foul charge during the Notre Dame-Duke women's basketball game on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN