Notre Dame seniors go out winners against Pittsburgh

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — With 8:43 remaining in fourth-ranked Notre Dame’s 87-59 Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball victory over Pittsburgh Thursday at the Purcell Pavilion, senior Markisha Wright made what might have been her biggest point on Senior Night — one that didn’t appear in the scorebook for the Irish.

Wright, one of three seniors playing in their last regular-season home game for the Irish, had just been called for an illegal pick on a screen that left fellow senior Madison Cable with a wide-open look at the basket.

Cable, who has been shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line, never got a chance to take the shot because the whistle blew. As the teams walked to the other end of the floor, Wright pleaded her case, to no avail, of course, and then looked at Cable and gave her an “I’m sorry” nod. Cable acknowledged it.

“I did feel bad for Maddy,” Wright said after getting a traditional Senior Night start with fellow seniors Cable and Whitney Holloway and responding with 14 points (on 6-for-6 shooting from the field and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line), five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 14 minutes.

“She’s loyal to that screen and she’s going to do her job on the screen and roll,” said junior All-America wing Jewell Loyd, who led five Irish players in double figures with 16 points.

“She’s a great leader of our team.”

Head coach Muffet McGraw, whose team clinched at least a share of its second straight ACC regular-season title (and fourth straight conference title) as well as the top seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament next week in Greensboro, N.C., with its 13th straight victory, couldn’t have been happier for Wright and her fellow seniors, who are now just four victories away of matching the all-time four-year victory mark of 138 set last year by seniors Ariel Braker, Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride.

“(Wright, Holloway and Cable) have been incredibly dependable and stable,” McGraw said. “They are a group that has never been in trouble. We’ve always been able to count on them academically. We’ve never had to have a meeting with any of them

because they’ve always right on whatever they’re supposed to be doing. They’ve been exceptional role models for this team.”

Cable, who missed her freshman year because of foot problems and could seek a fifth year of eligibility if she wants, finished with eight points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist in 22 minutes of action, while Holloway, who missed a tough shot at the buzzer that would have been her first points of the night and provided enough points for another fast-food sandwich for the 8,810 in attendance, had three rebounds and three assists in 14 minutes of play.

The three seniors, Loyd and sophomore Lindsay Allen, who finished with 13 points thanks to 6-for-8 shooting and eight assists, got the start for Notre Dame (27-2, 14-1 ACC) and opened up a 14-4 lead on the Panthers (18-10, 8-7 ACC) to the first media timeout, with Wright scoring eight and Loyd six.

“I thought I’d be a lot more emotional today but then I looked and saw my mother crying,” Wright said. “Whitney was able to find me (twice) and there were a lot of pretty easy shots that I hit.”

At that point, McGraw started substituting in her regulars.

Normal front-court starters Brianna Turner (15 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Taya Reimer (10 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal) and the others kept firing and connecting as Notre Dame used a 11-0 run to open up a 31-17 lead with 9:12 remaining in the first half. It was 40-27 at halftime with Notre Dame hitting on 56.3 percent of its shots and holding Pitt to just 27.6 percent.

“I’ve always been impressed with (Wright),” Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “She came out and was impressive from the beginning. This was a learning experience for us, but credit Notre Dame — they were so efficient on the offensive end across the board.”

The Irish then came out to hit their first 11 shots of the second half and opened up a 31-point lead — 65-34 — with 13:31 to go in the game. Pitt’s 5-foot-7 senior Brianna Kiesel, a candidate for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s top point guard, was a handful, finishing with 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe to go along with three assists and two steals, and both she and her coach were impressed by the Irish.

“They’re home and when you’re home you hit big shots; when we’re home, we shoot the ball decently, too,” Kiesel said.

“Bri (Kiesel) looked at me and said, ‘they haven’t missed,’” McConnell-Serio said. “It was like they were throwing tennis balls in the ocean.”

The Irish eventually cooled off, if shooting 70.4 percent (19 of 27) is cooling off. For the game, Notre Dame shot 62.7 percent (37 of 59) and had a 41-21 edge on the boards.

Notre Dame concludes the regular season Sunday afternoon on the road at North Carolina State, a 72-52 loser Thursday night to Florida State. The Irish will return home for practice and then fly back to Greensboro, N.C., for the league tournament. Their first game will be Friday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.

• NOTRE DAME 87, PITTSBURGH 59

At Purcell Pavilion, South Bend

PITTSBURGH (59): Monica Wignot 3-12 0-0 6, Stasha Carey 3-9 2-4 8, Yacine Diop 2-3 0-0 4, Aysia Bugg 2-8 0-0 4, Brianna Kiesel 8-15 10-11 27, Fred Potvin 1-3 2-2 5, Chelsea Welch 1-2 3-4 5, Cora McManus 0-2 0-0 0, Jordan Serio 0-1 0-0 0, TOTALS 20-55 17-2159.

NOTRE DAME (87): Markisha Wright 6-6 2-2 14, Madison Cable 3-5 0-0 8, Lindsay Allen 6-8 0-0 13, Whitney Holloway 0-3 0-0 0, Jewell Loyd 6-14 4-4 16, Brianna Turner 7-8 1-2 15, Taya Reimer 4-6 2-2 10, Mychal Johnson 1-2 0-0 3, Michaela Mabrey 2-3 0-0 4, Kathryn Westbeld 1-2 0-0 2, Hannah Huffman 1-2 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 37-59 9-10 87.

Halftime: Notre Dame 40, Pittsburgh 27.

Shooting: Pittsburgh 20 of 55 for 36.4 percent; Notre Dame 37 of 59 for 62.7 percent. 3-point shooting: Pittsburgh 2 of 16 (Kiesel 1-2, Potvin 1-3, Welch 0-1, Bugg 0-1, Diop 0-1, Carey 0-3, Wignot 0-4) for 12.5 percent; Notre Dame 4 of 12 (Cable 2-4, Allen 1-1, Johnson 1-1, Mabrey 0-1, Holloway 0-1, Huffman 0-1, Westbeld 0-1, Loyd 0-2) for 33.3 percent. Free-throw shooting: Pittsburgh 17 of 21 for 81.0 percent; Notre Dame 9-10 for 90 percent. Rebounds: Pittsburgh 21 (Wignot 5, Welch 4, Diop 3, Carey 3); Notre Dame 41 (Turner 9, Reimer 6, Wright 5, Holloway 3, Cable 3, Loyd 3). Assists: Pittsburgh 13 (Wignot 4, Kiesel 3); Notre Dame 23 (Allen 8, Loyd 5, Holloway 3, Reimer 3). Turnovers: Pittsburgh 14 (Kiesel 4, Diop 3); Notre Dame 18 (Turner 5, Reimer 4). Blocked shots: Pittsburgh 2 (Wignot 1, Welch 1); Notre Dame 5 (Turner 3, Reimer 2). Steals: Pittsburgh 7 (Carey 3, Kiesel 2); Notre Dame 7 (Cable 2, Turner 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Pittsburgh 15 (none); Notre Dame 17 (none).

Officials: Joanne Aldrich, Kathleen Lynch, Kevin Dillard. Records: Pittsburgh 18-10 overall, 8-7 Atlantic Coast Conference; Notre Dame 27-2 overall, 14-1 Atlantic Coast Conference. A—8,810.

Notre Dame’s Markisha Wright (34) speaks to Madison Cable (22) Thursday, February 26, 2015, during the Pittsburgh-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ
Notre Dame’s Madison Cable (22) shoots in the second half during senior night Thursday, February 26, 2015, during the Pittsburgh-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ
Notre Dame’s Whitney Holloway (3) tries a three-point play as the bench cheers her on during senior night Thursday, February 26, 2015, during the Pittsburgh-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ