Notre Dame women's basketball gathering steam with UNC win

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The pieces of the puzzle of players and talent that the Notre Dame women’s basketball team includes are fitting together famously. 

The result was a near love fest Sunday at Purcell Pavilion where the No. 3-ranked Notre Dame basketball team disposed of North Carolina, 88-54.

Irish Coach Muffet McGraw, saluted before the start of the game for notching her 800th career victory last week, was effusive in praise of her team. She knew it would take some time for the new players to blend in and some veterans to assume new roles. But the Irish are starting to look like a polished product lately.

“I’m really happy,'' she said. "We are starting to gel as a team. The team is finding its comfort zone. We are getting better defensively and it is good the balance we have and how we are sharing the ball.”

The victory puts Notre Dame at 15-1, and gives the Irish a 4-0 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play with a date Thursday at Boston College.

Legendary North Carolina Coach Sylva Hatchell, gracious in defeat but certainly not used to seeing her teams handled so easily, was full of praise for the Irish.

“Notre Dame is such a great team offensively,'' she said. "They all can score.”

“This is the first time our freshmen have played a game like this,” she continued. “They tried to do some things they were able to do against other teams, but couldn’t do them against Notre Dame. There is a reason they are the No. 3 team in the country.”

Two of the reasons for the Irish success Sunday were Brianna Turner, a sophomore, and Arike Ogunbowale, a freshman. Turner had 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, in addition to altering a handful of other shots in only 22 minutes of play.

“Without a doubt she is one of the best players in the country,” Hatchell said of Turner.

Ogunbowale was the leading scorer for Notre Dame with 16 points. Ogunbowale, who also had four assists, was instrumental in two spurts in the opening two quarters that helped the Irish leap from a 14-13 lead in the first quarter to a 47-27 halftime margin. The Irish used two spurts, a 9-0 run in the first quarter and a 13-0 run in the second to essentially put the game away. Ogunbowale had 10 points in those two quarters in only 13 minutes of action.

“I love the way she plays, especially when coming downcourt. Something good is going to happen,” McGraw said of Ogunbowale. “She is really coming into her own. I couldn’t be happier with what she is doing. Defensively she has improved and she is working on her rebounding.''

The Irish have taken big strides defensively since the return to full-time duty of Turner. Notre Dame has limited teams to an average of 56 points a game with Turner — they were allowing 76 points in the six games played when Turner was out with a shoulder injury.

The Irish outscored Carolina 50-14 in the paint and everyone contributed. Sophomore Kathryn Westbeld was solid with eight points and six rebounds in only 16 minutes. Kristina (CoCo) Nelson added eight points in the paint and had five rebounds in only 15 minutes.

The backcourt contributed equally as well. Freshman Marina Mabrey scored 14 for Notre Dame and do-everything grad student Madison Cable added 12 points. Point guard Lindsay Allen, despite playing only 21 minutes, had six assists and six points.

Xylina McDaniel, a 6-foot-2 senior, was a force for the Tar Heels. She grabbed 12 rebounds and scored 10 points. And she was full of praise for Notre Dame.

“Our young players just did not understand how good they are,” McDaniel said. “No matter who they have on the floor, they can all shoot. I just hope this puts fire in our souls. We should never lose like this.”

Notre Dame was indeed dominant in all areas. Other than the wide margin of points in the paint, the Irish had a 46-31 rebounding edge and limited the Tar Heels to 30 percent shooting. The Irish, meanwhile, finished the game 35 of 69 for 50.7 percent.

Yet it was the defense that paved the way for the easy victory.

“We started in a zone and we were trying to focus on their guards,” said McGraw. "And I think when we went to a man defense we did even better.”

Two of the Carolina guards (Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker) were limited to 5-of-29 shooting.

After Thursday’s ACC matchup with Boston College, the Irish return home to face Tennessee next Monday.

NORTH CAROLINA (12-6)

Stephanie Watts 2-15 0-0 6, Jamie Cherry 2-5 4-4 10, Destinee Walker 3-14 5-6 12, Hillary Summers 2-8 2-2 6, Xylina McDaniel 4-8 2-2 10, N'Dea Bryant 4-7 0-0 8, Erika Johnson 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 18-60 13-14 54.

NOTRE DAME (15-1)

Brianna Turner 4-5 3-4 11, Lindsay Allen 3-5 0-0 6, Madison Cable 5-12 1-2 12, Michaela Mabrey 3-5 0-0 9, Kathryn Westbeld 4-6 0-0 8, Arike Ogunbowale 6-12 4-4 16, Marina Mabrey 5-14 3-3 14, Mychal Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 3-6 2-2 8, Hannah Huffman 1-2 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 35-69 13-15 88.

3-Point Goals--North Carolina 5-19 (Cherry 2-3, Watts 2-9, Walker 1-6, McDaniel 0-1), Notre Dame 5-17 (Mi. Mabrey 3-5, Ma. Mabrey 1-4, Cable 1-5, Westbeld 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Allen 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--North Carolina 31 (McDaniel 12), Notre Dame 46 (Turner 9). Assists--North Carolina 7 (Cherry 4), Notre Dame 19 (Allen 6). Total Fouls--North Carolina 10, Notre Dame 15. A--8,942.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (2) goes up for a shot between North Carolina’s Erika Johnson (31) and Xylina McDaniel (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)