Notre Dame women slam Seminoles to earn another ACC tourney title

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Everyone in the women's college basketball world sees junior Jewell Loyd as Notre Dame’s most valuable player — and for obvious reasons. ESPN’s midseason player of the year pick and the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, Loyd has carried the Irish through a 31-2 season that now includes a 17-game winning streak.

On Sunday, in ND's relatively easy 71-58 victory over No. 7 Florida State in the ACC tournament title game before 6,874 at the Greensboro Coliseum, Loyd scored a game-high 18 points to pick up tournament most valuable player honors.

But if she could have, amidst the hundreds of balloons and the raining confetti, Loyd would have hacked off a huge chunk of the trophy and given it to her senior teammate, Madison Cable, who chipped in with 13 points in 29 minutes off the bench.

“Maddy is awesome,'' Loyd said. "She’s dedicated. She risks her body. She has cramps in her legs and she’s still giving you 110 percent. That motivates all of us to play like that. She’s the real MVP.”

Her Irish teammates know this: If there was a loose ball in Seattle and Cable was in Boston, she’d be diving for it.

Her coach, Muffet McGraw, knows how valuable Cable is and she let others know about it Sunday when she called her “the best sixth man in (women’s) basketball” to show a little of her displeasure that her ACC cohorts gave Florida State freshman Shakayla Thomas that honor in the ACC. More snub? Thomas made the all-tourney first team ahead of Cable, who was placed on the second unit.

“She brings instant energy,” McGraw said.

There was plenty of that from all the Irish Sunday. Sophomore forward Taya Reimer had 16 points and her freshman frontcourt mate Brianna Turner had 10. Each of them had eight rebounds and two blocked shots in being named to the all-tourney teams (Turner first, Reimer second).

As a team, Notre Dame shot well (51.7 percent for the game), defended well (FSU shot just 36.8, including 31.0 in the first half) and won the rebound battle (39-27).

McGraw called it “the best game we played all year.”

The victory improved Notre Dame’s two-year record against ACC foes to 38-1. Notre Dame is 18-1 this season in sweeping the regular-season and tournament titles, and was 20-0 last year doing the same plus beating Maryland in the Women’s Final Four.

“I don’t think it’s the best game we will play,” McGraw quickly added, “but it was definitely the best game we have played so far.”

Florida State coach Sue Semrau, whose team led for almost 26 minutes back on Jan. 2 before losing to Notre Dame 74-68 at the Purcell Pavilion, couldn’t disagree.

“They’re a tough, tough basketball team,” Semrau said. “We hang our hat on … rebounding, and this is the first time we have been out-rebounded all year.”

Maegen Conwright scored 14 points, Leticia Romero had 13 and 6-foot-4 center Adut Bulgak had 10 points, all in the first half.

Despite getting bumped and harassed, Loyd still managed to make nine of 17 shots and added seven rebounds, two steals and an assist.

“I think the turnovers (Loyd had four) they always surprise me,” McGraw joked, with a poke at Loyd, who was seated to her left.

Then McGraw got serious.

“She never ceases to amaze me,” she said.

Nor does Cable, who missed all of her freshmen year with foot problems and thus has a year of eligibility remaining if she asks for it and Notre Dame approves. McGraw has indicated a decision on Cable’s future will come after the season ends.

“When Madison comes in, she always gives us a spark,” McGraw said.

But it took a blow to Cable’s pilot light — her solar plexus — during a scramble that left her gasping for air after she entered with Notre Dame ahead 16-14 to get her and the Irish going.

Bulgak hit her first 3-pointer with 11:36 to go in the first half to give Florida State its second lead of the game, 18-17. It would be FSU’s last lead and it lasted until Loyd canned a jumper for an 18-17 Irish lead with 9:49 to go.

That started a 12-2 Irish run over the next 2:52 and it included a pair of 3-pointers from Cable, who ran Florida State silly getting open for passes from point guard Lindsay Allen, who finished with five assists (one less than Mabrey) and six points. Cable’s second 3-pointer at 6:57 made it 28-19 Notre Dame and Semrau called a timeout.

Fittingly, Cable grabbed an offensive rebound in a scramble and put it back in to give Notre Dame a 38-25 lead at halftime. Florida State never got closer than 13 in the second half and Notre Dame eventually stretched the lead to 22 when Loyd drove to the basket, encountered Bulgak and ducked while producing an underhanded shot with so much spin that it found its way off the rim and through the net.

“I do have an older brother (Jarryd, a former Valparaiso University standout who schooled his sister on the playground) and then practicing against Brianna (Turner) you learn – you have to,” Loyd said.

“I literally stood there and said, ‘Wow!’ I should have been running back on defense,” Cable remarked.

• NOTRE DAME 71, FLORIDA STATE 58

At Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum

FLORIDA STATE (58): Ivey Slaughter 1-5 2-2 4, Adut Bulgak 3-7 2-2 10, Leticia Romero 4-6 4-4 13, Brittany Brown 2-3 1-4 7, Maegan Conwright 6-17 1-2 14, Shakayla Thomas 4-13 0-0 8, Emiah Bingley 1-4 0-0 2, Morgan Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Shakena Richardson 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 21-57 10-14 58.

NOTRE DAME (71): Brianna Turner 5-9 0-1 10, Taya Reimer 7-12 2-2 16, Lindsay Allen 3-6 0-0 6, Michaela Mabrey 0-5 2-2 2, Jewell Loyd 9-17 0-0 18, Madison Cable 5-8 0-0 13, Kathryn Westbeld 2-3 2-2 6, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Mychal Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-1 0, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 31-60 6-8 71.

Halftime: Notre Dame 38, Florida State 25.

Shooting: Florida State 21 of 57 for 36.8 percent; Notre Dame 31 of 60 for 51.7 percent. 3-point shooting: Florida State 6 of 20 (Brown 2-3, Bulgak 2-5, Romero 1-2, Conwright 1-8, Jones 0-1, Bingley 0-1) for 30.0 percent; Notre Dame 3 of 12 (Cable 3-4, Allen 0-1, Loyd 0-2, Mabrey 0-5) for 25.0 percent. Free-throw shooting: Florida State 10 of 14 for 71.4 percent; Notre Dame 6 of 8 for 75.0 percent. Rebounds: Florida State 27 (Bulgak 7, Brown 6, Slaughter 5); Notre Dame 39 (Turner 8, Reimer 8, Loyd 7, Cable 4, Allen 3, Westbeld 3). Assists: Florida State 10 (Conwright 6, Romero 2); Notre Dame 19 (Mabrey 6, Allen 5, Reimer 3, Turner 2). Turnovers: Florida State 16 (Romero 5, Brown 4, Slaughter 2, Bulgak 2); Notre Dame 16 (Reimer 4, Allen 4, Loyd 4). Blocked shots: Florida State 7 (Slaughter 3, Thomas 2); Notre Dame 4 (Turner 2, Reimer 2). Steals: Florida State 11 (Conwright 4); Notre Dame 5 (Loyd 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Florida State 12 (none); Notre Dame 14 (none). Technical fouls: None.

Officials: Eric Brewton, Denise Brooks, Bryan Brunette. Records:

Florida State 29-4, Notre Dame 31-2. A—6,874.

Notre Dame players, from left to right, Lindsay Allen, Jewell Loyd, Madison Cable and Hannah Huffman run off the bench after ND's 71-58 win over Florida State in the ACC tourney title game on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/CHUCK BURTON)