Sizzling start carries Notre Dame women to ACC win

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND - Syracuse came to town sporting some fancy statistical numbers, a lot of momentum, a 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference record and a newly-gained Top 25 ranking (No. 24 in the coaches poll).

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team took away their strengths, shredded their press, flashed its own 3-point shooting prowess and sent the Orange home with 90-62 loss. It was the 16th consecutive victory over Syracuse.

A devastating 57-29 first-half run put the game away early for Notre Dame.

“That was just a phenomenal start we had,” said coach Muffet McGraw. “We scored so quickly against their press I couldn’t tell if they were falling back into a man defense or zone. I was really pleased that we had 19 assists in the first half (on 23 baskets).”

Syracuse came in with the second-most steals in the nation, averaging nearly 15, but grabbed only 11 against the Irish. Many of those were the result of bad passes by the Irish in the third quarter.

“We only scored 11 points in the first quarter,” said Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman. “We can’t set up our press if we don’t score.”

Hillsman was impressed with Notre Dame, 18-1 and 6-0 in ACC play.

“That was a masterful performance,” he said. “They shot like 70 percent in the first half (67.6 percent). I have never experienced something like that.”

The Orange head home 14-5, 4-2.

Senior Michaela Mabrey took advantage of the Irish press break and the Syracuse zone to score 20 points, including six of 10 3-pointers. The 20 points match her career high set last year against Boston College. The six 3-pointers tied her own arena record, strangely enough set two years ago also against Syracuse.

“She had a great game,” said McGraw. “She has a lot of jobs out there. She has to take care of the freshmen (on the floor) when Lindsay (Allen) is out. She has to think for everyone out there.”

Mabrey passed the credit around.

“When they play zone it opens up lanes for me to get the ball. My teammates found me and I was just on today. We have so many who can shoot and our chemistry is getting much better,” she said.

The Irish again showed amazing balance with four players scoring in double figures. Sophomore Mychal Johnson grabbed eight rebounds in 18 minutes.

“Mychal played great defense on (Alexis) Peterson,” said McGraw.

Peterson, the Syracuse point guard, scored 12 points but was only 4-of-12 from the floor.

Madison Cable, who scored 13 points, played in-your-face defense as well. Her primary assignment was on Syracuse’s Brianna Butler, the leading active career 3-point shot maker in the nation. Cable held her to four points in that overpowering first half.

“I just tried to limit her touches,” Cable said.

“She recovered really quickly when the ball came to me,” said Butler. “I didn’t get many good looks.”

Butler finished with 12 points but was 3 of 10 from 3-point range.

The Irish blocked a season-high 10 shots, with five of those coming from Brianna Turner, who added 19 points. Kathryn Westbeld continued her solid play, leading the Irish with 12 rebounds. Freshman Arike Ogunbowale added 14 points.

Notre Dame went on a 17-6 run late in the first quarter and scored the first 11 points of the second quarter to squash any Syracuse upset hopes. The Irish did go through a turnover-plagued third quarter and were outscored 19-15 by the Orange in that period.

“I thought I hid my frustration well,” said McGraw of the rough third quarter. “But my hair was standing on end.”

The teams played to an even final two quarters, but Syracuse never got closer than 18 points.

Turner, the leading Irish rebounder, had zero rebounds in the first half. But noting her defense and shot-blocking, along with the inside scoring McGraw said, “She did a great job. She was the intimidator inside. She defended a lot more on the perimeter and that is part of the reason her rebounds were down.”

SYRACUSE (14-5): Peterson 4-22 4-8 12, Slim 1-1 0-0 3, Butler 4-13 1-2 12, Sykes 4-12 0-0 9, Brian. Day 3-11 0-0 6, Chandler 2-4 1-1 5, Morrison 1-4 0-0 3, Fondren 2-11 4-6 8, Ford 1-3 0-0 2, B. Day 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-82 10-17 62.

 NOTRE DAME (18-1): Turner 8-10 3-6 19, Allen 2-3 2-4 6, Cable 4-10 2-3 13, Mi. Mabrey 7-11 0-0 20, Westbeld 3-5 2-4 8, Ogunbowale 6-12 1-2 14, Ma. Mabrey 3-4 0-1 7, Johnson 0-4 0-0 0, Nelson 0-1 1-2 1, Huffman 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 33-60 13-24 90.

 Syracuse 11 18 19 14—62

 Notre Dame 28 29 15 18—90

 3-Point Goals--Syracuse 6-26 (Butler 3-10, Slim 1-1, Sykes 1-2, Morrison 1-3, Chandler 0-2, Ford 0-2, Peterson 0-6), Notre Dame 11-24 (Mi. Mabrey 6-10, Cable 3-7, Ma. Mabrey 1-2, Ogunbowale 1-2, Allen 0-1, Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out--Fondren. Rebounds--Syracuse 55 (Fondren 8), Notre Dame 42 (Westbeld 12). Assists--Syracuse 10 (Peterson 6), Notre Dame 26 (Mi. Mabrey 6). Total Fouls--Syracuse 22, Notre Dame 18. A--8,312.

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld shoots over Syracuse’s Cornelia Fondren during the second half of Thursday's game.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN