Resilient Notre Dame women piece together victory

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – All the pieces of the new-look Notre Dame women’s basketball team didn’t mesh perfectly Wednesday night, but they did hold together well enough to fashion a 75-72 victory over No. 10 Ohio State at Purcell Pavilion

Playing without post players Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer, the Irish still out-rebounded the Buckeyes, 45-34, but the frantic pace of the game bothered the Irish offense against the press and in the halfcourt. Notre Dame shot 37.5 percent, its worst effort in that category through the first seven games.

Yet Coach Muffet McGraw saw a silver lining in the game saved by veterans Lindsay Allen and Madison Cable, who scored seven points in the game’s final four minutes.

“We beat UCLA and Ohio State without our post players. That bodes well for this team,” said McGraw, whose Irish travel to meet No.1-ranked Connecticut on Saturday.

Cable scored a career-high 25 points to lead Notre Dame.  The grad student wing also led the Irish in rebounding with 11 to post the second double-double of her career. Her first came in an overtime victory at DePaul last season.

Allen added 20 points, her biggest output of the season and had five assists. But Allen was charged with an uncharacteristic eight turnovers, many coming against the Buckeye’s pressing defense. 

“We didn’t exactly expect the way they would trap,” said Allen. “We were out of sync.”

“Yes we did (struggle against the press), said McGraw. “It was too much over-dribbling and over-passing. We like playing Princeton (the Irish four-guard offense), but we need time to work on it,” said McGraw.

Ohio State took the lead in the game, 70-69, on a layup by Kelsey Mitchell with 2:11 to play. But with 56 seconds remaining Cable hit a 3-point shot to put Notre Dame up, 72-70. Ameryst Alston scored with 37 seconds left to tie the game. But Kathryn Westbeld hit one of two free throws with 26 seconds to play and Cable added two more with seven seconds remaining.

One of the most underrated plays of the game came as the clock was winding down in the final seconds. Trailing by three, Mitchell brought the ball quickly up court. Just before she launched a 3-pointer that drew nothing but net,  Mitchell was fouled by Mychal Johnson. A great play since the Irish had a foul to give before sending the Buckeyes to the line.

After the inbounds play, Mitchell misfired on a desperation shot and the Irish victory was secured.

Senior Hannah Huffman, starting for only the second time in her career, added nine rebounds (a career high) for the Irish, including seven offensive boards. Notre Dame’s defense in the final two quarters helped the Irish withstand a cold-shooting stretch that saw them hit only one of 14 shots during a portion of the third quarter. The Irish led 51-44 with 6:49 to play in the third period, but missed their next 10 shots.

The Notre Dame rebounding helped. “We gave them too many second-chance points,” said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff, a former six-year assistant coach on McGraw’s staff at Notre Dame. “That was one of the turning points of the game. When we went to the press it seemed to energize us and make us more aggressive.”

Westbeld, a sophomore who has started all of the ND games this season, added 14 points and six rebounds. 

“We need some rest,” said McGraw. “(Allen) played 39 minutes, Westbeld 35 and Cable 34.” 

That kind of stamina is often needed at tourney time in March, but seldom in December.

Mitchell, the nation’s top scorer at 28.5 points, led the Buckeyes with 27 points. Shayla Cooper added 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, while Alston contributed 13.

Cable’s work inside and out helped Notre Dame win its 21st straight game decided by single digits. 

“I just tried to take what was there,” said Cable, whose offensive output this season has grown almost game by game.

 Allen’s 20-point output was her season high, and prompted a quick and loud “Yes” from McGraw when asked if she thought Allen should shoot more.

The Irish started quickly, with six different players scoring in the first quarter. Notre Dame led 45-40 at the half, but the cold shooting in the third quarter enabled Ohio State to stay close throughout much of the second half.

Despite the poor shooting and troubles against the pressure, a victory over a Top 10 team is always welcomed. The triumph was Notre Dame’s 14th in a row against teams in the current Big 10 alignment. 

But the game that has been for many years the game of the year in women’s college basketball looms Saturday at Storrs, Conn., against the top-ranked Huskies.

Column: 'Average' is still pretty good for Notre Dame women's basketball - http://goo.gl/PPwbur

Photos of Notre Dame's victory: http://goo.gl/C4wKKh

OHIO STATE (4-3): K. Mitchell 9-19 6-9 27, Craft 1-4 0-0 2, Alston 6-11 1-1 13, Hart 3-3 1-2 7, Cooper 9-16 0-0 18, Pugh 0-2 0-0 0, Doss 2-5 0-2 5, Waterman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-60 8-14 72.

NOTRE DAME (7-0): Allen 9-16 0-0 20, Cable 8-14 4-4 25, Mi. Mabrey 0-4 0-0 0, Huffman 1-2 0-0 2, Westbeld 5-12 4-6 14, Ogunbowale 2-14 6-6 10, Ma. Mabrey 2-8 0-0 4, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-72 14-16 75.

Halftime--Ohio St. 40-45. 3-Point Goals--Ohio St. 4-12 (K. Mitchell 3-6, Doss 1-1, Craft 0-1, Cooper 0-1, Alston 0-3), Notre Dame 7-24 (Cable 5-9, Allen 2-6, Johnson 0-1, Ma. Mabrey 0-4, Mi. Mabrey 0-4). Fouled Out--Alston. Rebounds--Ohio St. 34 (Cooper 15), Notre Dame 45 (Cable 11). Assists--Ohio St. 10 (Alston 5), Notre Dame 16 (Allen 5). Total Fouls--Ohio St. 17, Notre Dame 15. A--8,609.

Notre Dame’s Madison Cable (22) drive into a crowd in the key Wednesday, December 2, 2015, during the Ohio State-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ