Notre Dame offense sizzles in rout of Montana

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Playing its first game in 12 days, the second-ranked Notre Dame women's basketball team didn’t waste any time Friday night getting down to business against Montana in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The Irish, the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, hit nine of their first 11 shots (82 percent) before cooling off to a still-sizzling 62.3 percent (33 of 53) at game’s end and ran away to a 77-43 victory over the Grizzlies.

Junior Jewell Loyd scored 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 26 minutes before taking a seat next to Irish coach Muffet McGraw with 12:47 remaining and her team comfortably ahead 55-32. Freshman Brianna Turner scored 12 in 19 minutes with fellow starters Taya Reimer, Lindsay Allen and Michaela Mabrey each finishing with nine points. Freshman Kathryn Westbeld's 10 rebounds helped the Irish to a 38-32 advantage on the boards.

All and all, a good start in McGraw’s eyes, considering the team looming next for her 32-2 team is old-time rival DePaul, which will try to avenge a 94-93 overtime loss to the Irish on Dec. 10 in Chicago.

“After having two weeks off, I was a little worried about the execution and how sharp we would look,” McGraw said. “I was really pleased the way we came out. We’re going to focus on DePaul immediately after this. I think at this time of the year it’s all about building confidence and just celebrating the victories.”

Tipoff for the second-round game is 9 p.m. Sunday at the Purcell Pavilion, which had just 6,198 fans in attendance for the Friday doubleheader. The winner moves on to Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena for the March 27 regional semifinals.

“Everyone fed off each other’s energy,” said Loyd, whose career-high 41 points, every one of them, were needed the last time she played against a DePaul team she almost chose over the Irish.

“We just took what their defense gave us. We just have confident players and having trust in your teammates makes it a lot easier.”

Notre Dame certainly impressed Montana’s veteran coach Robin Selvig. The Lady Grizzlies, champions of the Big Sky Conference, finished up 24-9 and did not have a player in double figures as Notre Dame’s man-to-man held them to 30.6-percent shooting (19 of 62) and just 9.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line (2 of 21). Kayleigh Valley had nine points.

“They have a heck of a team,” Selvig said. “They kind of had their way with us offensively.”

Kellie Rubel, a fifth-year senior who had six turnovers, was even more impressed with Notre Dame’s defense. “They are really athletic,” she said. “We are used to pressure but not that much pressure and

athleticism.”

The Irish did little wrong in the first half, especially at the start, to take a 15-6 lead and forcing Selvig, who played for Hall of Fame coach Jud Heathcote of Michigan State in Missoula, to call a timeout.

At times, Selvig, coaching his alma mater’s women for the 37th straight year, stomped the sidelines much like his mentor while trying to get his Lady Grizzlies to run their offense.

The lead grew to 19-6 Notre Dame when Selvig called his second timeout 100 seconds later. It finally grew to 21-6 at the first media break at 11:55, and the Irish were hitting at 76.9 percent (10 of 13) thanks to a 14-0 run and holding a 9-2 advantage on the boards.

Montana then ripped off seven unanswered points to close within 10 and eventually got inside double digits on a Kayleigh Valley free throw after the second media timeout at 7:16 for a 25-16 deficit.

But Notre Dame’s talent and depth was too much, and the Irish went on an 18-8 run to the finish for a 43-24 lead at the break. Notre Dame’s shooting cooled to 60 percent (18 of 30 with 11 assists) at the break against the fourth-best defending team in the country.

Loyd’s 15-footer at the buzzer gave her a team-high 12 at the break and she also had four assists. Westbeld had six points and eight rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench.

Notre Dame hit eight of its first 11 shots of the second half and opened up a 25-point lead on several occasions, including 59-34 with 11:01 left when Selvig used his third timeout. Notre Dame’s biggest lead, 75-40, came with 3:02 on a jumper by freshman Mychal Johnson with Mabrey directing things with Markisha Wright, Whitney Holloway and Diamond Thompson on the floor.

A few minutes earlier, Mabrey missed her first free throw of the season after making her first 15 in the previous 33 games. Then Mabrey was boxing out and unaware that a long heave by McCalle Feller was headed her way. Mabrey turned and took it right between her nose and her mouth, and the shot stunned her temporarily.

“I was crying from being hit right there,” said Mabrey, who was taken out for just a moment until she pestered her coach to go right back in and she promptly nailed a 3-pointer for a 71-40 Irish lead.

“I hope they didn’t show me on television,” fellow junior Hannah Huffman said. “We were all trying to hide our laughter.”

Loyd was on the bench at that point, putting on her warm-up jacket, a clear sign that McGraw wanted her ready for what is certain to be another furious up-and-down game with Doug Bruno’s 27-7 Blue Demons, who rallied from a 41-30 halftime deficit against the Golden Gophers (23-10).

“Notre Dame didn’t have Turner the last time,” Bruno reminded the media Thursday. This time, the Irish will but DePaul didn’t seem to shy away from going inside against 6-foot-5 Amanda Zahui B. and 6-1 Shae Kelley.

“It’s March Madness and of course you get excited,” Loyd said. “You play with a lot of passion, and we’re playing at home. But that was last season. It’s a new season.”

And both Notre Dame and DePaul are unbeaten.

• NOTRE DAME 77, MONTANA 43

At Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Ind.

MONTANA (43): Kellie Rubel 4-12 0-0 8, McCalle Feller 4-12 0-0 8, Kayleigh Valley 3-7 3-4 9, Carly Selvig 0-2 0-0 0, Maggie Rickman 4-10 0-0 8, Hannah Doran 0-4 0-0 0, Alycia Sims 1-4 0-1 2, Shanae Gilham 2-7 0-0 5, Mekayla Isaak 1-1 0-0 3, Haley Vining 0-2 0-0 0, Rachel Staudacher 0-1 0-0 0, TOTALS 19-62 3-5 43.

NOTRE DAME (77): Brianna Turner 5-8 2-4 12, Taya Reimer 4-5 1-1 9, Lindsay Allen 3-6 3-3 9, Michaela Mabrey 3-6 1-2 9, Jewell Loyd 9-14 0-0 18, Kathryn Westbeld 3-3 2-6 8, Madison Cable 2-3 0-0 4, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Mychal Johnson 1-2 0-1 2, Markisha Wright 2-3 0-0 4, Whitney Holloway 1-2 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, TOTALS 33-53 9-17 77.

Halftime: Notre Dame 43, Montana 24.

Shooting: Montana 19 of 62 for 30.6 percent; Notre Dame 33 of 53 for 62.3 percent. 3-point shooting: Montana 2 of 21 for 9.5 percent; Notre Dame 2 of 8 for 25.0 percent. Free-throw shooting: Montana 3 of 5 for 60.0 percent; Notre Dame 9 of 17 for 52.9 percent. Rebounds: Montana 32 (Valley 6, Sims 6, Rickman 5, Rubel 5); Notre Dame 38 (Westbeld 10, Wright 5, Allen 5, Turner 4, Mabrey 4). Assists: Montana 11 (Rubel 6, Selvig 2); Notre Dame 20 (Allen 7, Loyd 4, Reimer 3, Huffman 3). Turnovers: Montana 17 (Rubel 6, Valley 3); Notre Dame 14 (Turner 3, Reimer 3, Loyd 3). Assist/Turnover margin: Montana 0.64; Notre Dame 1.43. Blocked shots: Montana 3 (Selvig 1, Rickman 1, Isaak 1); Notre Dame 5 (Reimer 3, Turner 1, Thompson 1). Steals: Montana 7 (Valley 1, Selvig 1, Rickman 1, Rubel 1, Sims 1, Isaak 1, Gilham 1); Notre Dame 10 (Westbeld 4, Allen 2, Johnson 2). Total fouls (fouled out): Montana 17 (Rickman, 7:25, 2nd half); Notre Dame 12 (none). Technical fouls: none. Officials: Edward Sidlasky, Angelica Suffren, Bart Baldwin. Records: Montana 24-9, Notre Dame 32-2. A—6,198.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) shoots over Montana's Kayleigh Valley (10) Friday during the ND"s 77-43 NCAA Tournament rout of Montana at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)