Strong finish propels Notre Dame women past Louisville

Ken Klimek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

LOUISVILLE — Their transition game was taken away. They did not shoot well and they were owned on the backboards.

But the trip back to South Bend would be pleasant after a dominating 17-6 run in the last 8:21 propelled the Notre Dame women’s basketball team to a 66-61 victory over Louisville and more than 14,000 red-clad fans at the Yum Center.

The dramatic triumph gave the Irish sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with an 11-0 record. No. 3 Notre Dame is 23-1 with some time off before it meets Miami at Purcell Pavilion next Sunday. Louisville, ranked 13th, is 18-6 and 10-1 in ACC play. Notre Dame has won two consecutive ACC championships and their late rally puts them in better position to go after a third straight.

Six straight points by sophomore Brianna Turner pulled Notre Dame even at 55-55 with 6:32 remaining. The Cardinals edged ahead, 58-57 with 4:38 to play, but two free throws by Madison Cable, followed by a 3-point shot by Cable gave the Irish a 62-58 lead. Four free throws, one each by Lindsay Allen, Hannah Huffman, Turner and Michaela Mabrey denied Louisville any last-minute comeback.

“That was a phenomenal game,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “It was a great battle. They came at us with everything they had. We found a way to win at the end. I think Madison Cable’s 3-pointer and being able to get inside to Bri (Turner) were keys for us.”

Louisville led throughout the game and opened a nine-point lead with six minutes to play in the third quarter. The Irish cut the deficit to four to start the final period, then soon after unleashed that 17-6 spurt that broke the Cardinals’ back.

“They had 20 offensive rebounds,” said McGraw, whose team was beaten on the boards, 44-35. “That is unacceptable. Except for Cable we need to do a better job.''

Cable was all over the floor as she usually is and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Louisville found a way to limit Notre Dame’s nation-leading 3-point shooting (Notre Dame finished only 2-for-9 from beyond the arc) and the Irish had a tough shooting night from everywhere, finishing at 36.2 percent (25 of 69).

But once again it was Notre Dame’s balance, experience and refusing to panic that shoved the Irish to the top of the ACC standings. Freshman Arike Ogunbowale provided a spark, leading Notre Dame with 15 points, including 11 in the first half. Cable and Turner each scored 13, while floor general Lindsay Allen added 12.

The Irish half-court game struggled most of the afternoon.

“They were overplaying, were very quick and were being physical with us,” said Allen.

“The high-low game did not work well for us in the first half,” said McGraw. “They did not give us good looks (for shooting the three). When we went inside to Bri that was what opened up the shot for Cable (that gave the Irish a four-point lead).''

“They did a nice job getting the ball inside to Bri,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “We tried to double her but could not contain her. It hurts to lose, but this can’t define your season.”

“I absolutely refuse to let our kids feel sorry for themselves. We have work to do beginning Tuesday. We can’t think about the tournament yet.”

The narrow victory was ND's 26th straight in games decided by single digits. It pushes the Irish to 49-1 in all ACC games and the victory was the the 55th in 57 road games.

Notre Dame works hard in practice on closing each quarter positively. The practice paid off at the end of the first half. Trailing 35-26, the Irish scored the final four points on baskets by Ogunbowale.

“Those four points were big,” said Walz, who also pointed out two potential fastbreak layins in the second half that were never scored. “Lindsay (Irish guard Allen) made two strips. We work hard on going up strong. Those were another four points we needed.”

“This was a great game for women’s basketball,” said McGraw. “To be in sole possession of first place is good for us. It continues to give us confidence when we can win on the road like this.”

The Irish have only two more regular season road games — Feb 18th at Wake Forest and 22nd at No. 10 Florida State.

Notre Dame's Madison Cable (22) attempts to shoot around the defense of Louisville's Mariya Moore (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Louisville Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)