Notre Dame women's hoops deflates, impresses Miami in win

Ken Klimek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Three quarters were so precise and pretty that a poor fourth quarter did not spoil the party.

That was the picture Sunday as the No. 3-ranked Notre Dame women's basketball team defeated a No. 19 Miami team, 90-69, in as dominating a performance as the Irish have had in some weeks.

“Notre Dame does that to you,” said Miami coach Katie Meier. “Their defense deflates you. You feel you are just chasing the ball around. It hurts your ability to defend.”

She was praising the Irish ball movement and offensive flow — and she pointed out an Irish player who normally does not get all the headlines.

“Take somebody like Kathryn Westbeld,'' Meier said. "It says she only had one assist, but she just blistered our defense with her passing. Westbeld was thinking two passes away, reversing the ball and they got their scores. They have those types of players — secondary assist players who make you look stupid on the back side of your defense.”

Westbeld finished with six points and eight rebounds.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was both happy and a bit surprised the Irish offense performed so well. Point guard Lindsay Allen picked up her second foul in the first quarter and spent nearly 16 minutes on the bench in the first half.

“I was surprised we were up that much at halftime (44-25) without Lindsay in the game,” said McGraw, who was pleased with the day's work except for the fourth quarter when the Irish committed eight turnovers and allowed 29 points. Still it was the worst loss of the season for Miami.

“I did the little leprechaun thing (fist pumping), when Allen got that second foul,” Meier said. “It was huge for our game plan, but ... They just have great mental toughness. They did not blink.''

Notre Dame is 24-1 and 12-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The game was played before a crowd of 9,149, the second sellout of the season. It was Pink Zone day, a fundraiser for cancer research. The victory cost McGraw $500. She and her husband Matt pledged $100 for the fund for every 3-point shot her team made. Miami fell to 21-5 (9-4).

With Allen on the bench and the Irish running their offense with point guard by committee, freshmen Arike Ogungbowale and Marina Mabrey gave ND a huge lift.

“We looked more like a team that is peaking,” beamed McGraw. “I am happy the freshmen played well.”

Play well they did. Ogunbowale scored 18 points to lead four Irish double-figure scorers. Mabrey had 14 to go with four assists. Brianna Turner scored 15, despite playing only 24 minutes. Allen scored 12 in only 16 minutes on the floor. A total of 57 of Notre Dame's points was scored by Irish freshmen or sophomores.

“The way they play is a credit to Notre Dame and the IQ of their team,” said Meier. “They have played without Jewel (Loyd, who left early for the WNBA) and Reimer (who quit the team and is transferring.) They could not recruit for that. I thought our bench would outperform their bench. I was wrong. Their bench is phenomenal. Muffet does not get enough credit. She has done a great job with them.''

Mychal Johnson (18 minutes) and Hannah Huffman (14 minutes) saw extended playing time as ND wore down the Hurricanes with its sticky defense — one that only allowed 40 points through those pretty first three quarters.

The sloppy fourth quarter produced a rash of turnovers.

“We were trying to overpass. Sometimes that happens when you have an unselfish team,” said McGraw. “We could have gotten a lot more shots if we took care of the ball better.''

Meier agreed.

“They could have scored 115 points without those turnovers,” she said.

Always the perfectionist, McGraw saw some holes in the Irish performance. “I wish we could get the ball to Bri (Turner) more. I thought we had a mismatch there.”

Notre Dame's Madison Cable had eight rebounds and eight points, but played only 23 minutes. She deserved the rest after spending most of her minutes battling inside for the boards and scrapping and diving for loose balls.

Turner thought the improving Irish performances are based on communication.

“We are just talking more on the floor now,” she said “We are much better from a communication standpoint.”

Four regular-season games remain.

The Irish play Thursday at Wake Forest before a Monday, Feb. 22 showdown at Florida State, a team with only one ACC loss.

Miami’s Adrienne Motley (23) passes around Notre Dame’s Madison Cable (22) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)