Notre Dame women's basketball handles No. 10 Duke

Irish get serious in the paint in 63-50 win

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – A lot of the questions about Notre Dame’s young women’s basketball team were put to rest Monday night at the Purcell Pavilion.

Showing toughness and depth like they haven’t before this season, the fourth-ranked Irish overcame an early Duke lead and cruised to a 63-50 Atlantic Coast Conference victory before 8,659 fans at Purcell Pavilion and before a national audience watching on ESPN2.

It was the 10th straight victory for coach Muffet McGraw’s team, 24-2 overall and 11-1 in the ACC, a game ahead of idle Florida State and Louisville, which visits here next Monday at 7. Before then for Notre Dame, there’s a quick Thursday trip to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech for the second time this season. Tenth-ranked Duke fell to 19-7 and 10-3.

Junior All-American Jewell Loyd, still struggling with her shot, nevertheless finished with a game-high 21 points for Notre Dame.

And despite a 5-of-18 effort from the field, it was Loyd’s two 3-pointers that ignited the Irish comeback from a 14-5 hole in the first half. She finished with four 3-pointers in eight attempts, and with reserve Madison Cable hitting 3-of-7, Notre Dame, which entered the game the sixth best team nationally from long distance, hit 9 of 23 (39.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

It was Loyd’s defensive work on Duke’s Rebecca Greenwell, who was limited to four points, which impressed her coach the most.

“I thought her defensive intensity and focus were phenomenal,” McGraw noted, “and she really had a major impact during that stretch. Her 3-pointers were huge.

“For a team that is known a little more for its offense, we played great defense today,” McGraw continued.

Freshman Brianna Turner had 11 points and five rebounds with four blocks, one more than her front-court partner Taya Reimer, as Notre Dame had a 7-1 edge in blocked shots.

But the biggest factor in the victory was Notre Dame’s toughness against the taller Duke team, which entered the game with the nation’s best rebound margin of plus 13.8. The Irish eventually lost the battle of the boards, 45-37, but that was after starting the game in a 6-0 hole.

McGraw got yeoman’s work from her bench, particularly senior Madison Cable and freshman Kathryn Westbeld in the first half when Reimer got into foul trouble and Turner needed to catch her breath. Cable finished with nine points, six rebounds and four steals, all in the first half, while Westbeld had eight points and a team-high seven boards.

“Cable and Westbeld gave us such a great lift in the first half with their defense,” McGraw said. “I think we’ve come a long way. We’re playing great basketball and playing together.”

Duke’s 6-3 senior center, Elizabeth Williams, finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds and 6-5 freshman guard Azura Stevens had 13 points and 10 boards. The Irish forced 19 turnovers and committed just 14 and held Duke to 33.9-percent shooting (21 of 62) for the game. From beyond the 3-point line, Duke was 0 of 12, which certainly didn’t please Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie.

“It was horrible,” McCallie said. “You would think that we would have smartened up and gotten the ball inside. We shot terribly. It was a tough game – I think we learned some things. Obviously, the difference in the game was No. 32 (Loyd).”

Duke took a 10-3 lead into the first media timeout on the strength of its rebounding. The Blue Devils had a 6-0 advantage on the boards in the first 4:14 of the game. Williams and Stevens each had four points as Duke hit four of its first seven shots. McGraw began substituting to offset the Duke height advantage, first with Westbeld and then, after Reimer drew her second personal at 13:05 mark, with Cable and Markisha Wright.

That took care of the boards immediately, and Loyd got things going from long distance with the Irish trailing 14-5 with 14:18 to play in the half. Notre Dame hit four 3-pointers in a row – the first two by Loyd followed by one each from Cable and Lindsay Allen in a span of two minutes and the Irish closed the gap to 19-17 at the second media timeout with 10:00 left in the half.

Out of the break, Loyd found Cable in the corner and she got the ball in the air just before the 30-second buzzer went off and the shot found nothing but net – Notre Dame’s fifth 3-pointer of the evening – for a 20-19 lead. It was Notre Dame’s first lead of the night, coming with 9:43 remaining in the first half.

Coming out of the third media break at 7:59, the Irish continued their run to 13-0 on rebound baskets by Westbeld (off a Loyd miss) and Turner (off a Michaela Mabrey miss) to take a 24-19 lead with 6:16 to go when McCallie called a timeout.

Another Cable 3-pointer, off a cross-court pass from Turner, gave Notre Dame a 29-21 lead heading into the media timeout at 3:58. More importantly, the Irish were winning the battle of the boards 16-14 thanks to Cable and Westbeld, who would finish with six each. Notre Dame closed the half 5-3 with Turner getting a nice feed from Westbeld and Loyd canning a pair of free throws.

Williams hit three straight shots and Notre Dame made four turnovers to start the second half as the Blue Devils closed the Irish lead to four. But Mabrey got into the 3-point shooting range with an assist from Allen to stop the Duke run.

Then Turner forced Williams into a walking turnover and Reimer blocked Williams’ next attempt down the floor. The ball went to Allen, who found a streaking Turner at the basket for a 39-30 lead. Loyd then hit a pair of free throws and the Irish were up 41-30 after the first media break at 15:45.

Loyd’s 3-pointer from the corner came between a pair of Reimer layins and the Irish had a 48-33 lead with 13:13 to go when McCallie called her second timeout. Notre Dame’s biggest lead would be 19 points (52-33) with 11:05 to go on a Turner layup.

• NOTRE DAME 63, DUKE 50

At Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Ind.

DUKE (50): Azura Stevens 6-13 1-4 13, Kendall Cooper 0-6 2-2 2, Elizabeth Williams 8-17 2-6 18, Rebecca Greenwell 2-5 0-0 4, Ka’lia Johnson 2-7 2-2 6, Amber Henson 2-5 0-0 4, Mercedes Riggs 0-5 0-0 0, Erin Mathias 1-4 1-2 3, TOTALS 21-62 8-16 50.

NOTRE DAME (63): Brianna Turner 5-6 1-2 11, Taya Reimer 3-7 0-0 6, Lindsay Allen 2-9 0-2 5, Michaela Mabrey 1-5 0-0 3, Jewell Loyd 5-18 7-8 21, Kathryn Westbeld 4-5 0-0 8, Madison Cable 3-7 0-0 9, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Markisha Wright 0-1 0-0 0, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 23-58 8-12 63.

Halftime: Notre Dame 34, Duke 24. Shooting: Duke 21 of 62 for 33.9 percent; Notre Dame 23 of 58 for 39.7 percent. 3-point shooting: Duke 0 of 12 (Riggs 0-5, Johnson 0-3, Stevens 0-2, Greenwell 0-2). Notre Dame 9 of 23 (Loyd 4-8, Cable 3-7, Allen 1-3, Mabrey 1-4, Westbeld 0-1) for 39.1 percent. Rebounds: Duke 45 (Williams 11, Stevens 10); Notre Dame 37 (Westbeld 7, Cable 6, Loyd 6, Turner 5, Reimer 4). Assists: Duke 8 (Johnson 3); Notre Dame 16 (Allen 5, Loyd 5, Westbeld 2, Turner 2). Turnovers: Duke 19 (Greenwell 5, Stevens 3, Williams 3, Riggs 3); Notre Dame 14 (Loyd 4, Reimer 3, Allen 3). Blocked shots: Duke 1 (Williams 1); Notre Dame 7 (Turner 4, Reimer 3). Steals: Duke 6 (Cooper 2, Williams 2); Notre Dame 11 (Cable 4, Turner 2, Allen 2, Loyd 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Duke 14 (Greenwell); Notre Dame 15 (none).

Officials: Denise Brooks, Cameron Inouye, Daryl Humphrey.

Records: Notre Dame 24-2 overall, 11-1 Atlantic Coast Conference; Duke 19-7 overall, 10-3 ACC.

Attendance — 8,659.

Notre Dame’s Madison Cable saves the ball from going out of bounds 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