One goal down for Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — A share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship was guaranteed the Notre Dame women’s basketball team Thursday night, but there was little celebrating.

It’s not that the Irish were not happy after easily disposing of Clemson, 71-52, and winning their 20th straight. It is that they know there is one more step remaining.

“We are not interested in sharing,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “We want to win it all.”

And Notre Dame has an opportunity to do just that on Saturday, Senior Day, at 1 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion when Boston College comes calling for the regular-season finale.

If the Irish win that game, they will prevent Louisville from sharing the title and will again finish the conference season unbeaten for their third straight ACC title. Notre Dame is 27-1 and 15-0 in the league. Louisville, with one game remaining, is 14-1 in the ACC, losing only to Notre Dame.

McGraw cited the good things the Irish did against Clemson (4-24, 0-15), but was aware of the negatives in the easy triumph.

“I thought we took a step backwards today,” McGraw said. “We would have liked to finish the game a little stronger.”

Notre Dame held Clemson, which has lost 30 straight ACC games dating back to last season, to five points in the third quarter and led, 56-30. But the Tigers outscored the Irish 22-15 the rest of the way.

“That fourth quarter was a lack of focus,” McGraw said. “We have a really young team. It’s difficult for them to understand the discipline of working hard on every play. Every possession matters. There are going to be games when one possession does matter and you have to practice and play that way.”

Yet there were plenty of positives Thursday night. Sophomore Brianna Turner had 14 points and eight rebounds and was 6-for-7 from the field.

“We have to get the ball to Bri more,” said McGraw. “Seven shots is just not enough.”

Freshman Arike Ogunbowale led Notre Dame with 16 points in 22 minutes on the floor.

“Arike continued to give us great offense coming off the bench,” said McGraw. “I think Arike is the best sixth man in the game. She is doing so many things that are exciting to watch. It’s a luxury to have someone that talented come off the bench.”

Ogunbowale was happy with her game, but knows there is much more ahead.

“I started the season kind of shaky,'' she said. "I had to put a in a lot of work to get better. I’m still not reaching my potential. I need to work on my defense.”

Turner had eight points in the first quarter when the Irish did go inside effectively.

“I felt they were trying to push me on the high side,” said Turner. “So I slid down low and LA (Lindsay Allen) caught me with some lobs. Same when I was open on the pick and roll.”

The game was close for about eight minutes. In fact, Notre Dame led only 15-14 when Nelly Perry scored for Clemson at the 2:27 mark of the first quarter.

“We got off to a good start and were making shots early,” said Clemson coach Audra Smith. “Then boom, they turned it on. They started making shots and got their transition game going. They have a lot of kids you need to be aware of. They shoot well, and they cut well. They are very good at read and react.”

From that 15-14 lead, the Irish outscored Clemson 25-11 to put plenty of distance between them and the Tigers at halftime. Notre Dame shot a blistering 65 percent in the first half on 13 of 20 from the field. They then outscored the Tigers 16-5 in the third quarter to put the game away.

Senior Hannah Huffman started in place of the injured Kathryn Westbeld, who is also doubtful for Saturday’s matchup with Boston College. Westbeld injured an ankle Monday night against Florida State.

Huffman had a career high five assists, four rebounds and five points with only one turnover in 22 minutes. Senior Michaela Mabrey scored 11.

The youth of the Irish and the continued success they are having continues to be a bright spot for Notre Dame.

“I think I have been incredibly patient this year,” said McGraw (a bit tongue in cheek) of working with her young players.

“Yes, she has been patient with us,” said Ogunbowale. “She is hard on us, but in a good way.”

McGraw tries to see down the road. “I can see the picture and it looks so good. Two of them (the freshmen) are the future of this team. And we have Bri (Turner), who is only a sophomore. We have so many talented players. It’s great to look at how good we can be. My challenge is in knowing it is going to be a process and to value the process. Both (Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey) have All-American potential. I want them to get there sooner.”

Aliyah Collier scored 18 to lead Clemson. She was the only Tiger in double figures.

No. 2 NOTRE DAME 71, CLEMSON 52

CLEMSON (4-24): Sirah Diarra 3-3 0-0 6, Nelly Perry 2-14 0-0 4, Victoria Cardaci 3-7 0-0 9, Danielle Edwards 2-10 0-0 5, Aliyah Collier 6-10 6-9 18, Gadson Lefft 2-3 0-0 4, MaKayla Johnson 1-5 0-0 2, Alexis Carter 2-8 0-0 4. Totals 21-60 6-9 52.

NOTRE DAME (27-1): Brianna Turner 6-7 2-2 14, Lindsay Allen 4-5 0-0 8, Madison Cable 4-8 0-0 9, Mchaela Mabrey 4-8 0-0 11, Hannah Huffman 1-2 3-3 5, Arike Ogunbowale 5-11 5-6 16, Marina Mabrey 2-3 2-2 6, Mychal Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-1 1-2 1, Diamond Thompson 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 26-48 14-17 71.

Clemson 14 11 5 22—52

Notre Dame 21 19 16 15—71

3-Point Goals--Clemson 4-12 (Cardaci 3-7, Edwards 1-2, Carter 0-1, Perry 0-2), Notre Dame 5-14 (Mi. Mabrey 3-7, Ogunbowale 1-1, Cable 1-3, Johnson 0-1, Ma. Mabrey 0-1, Allen 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Clemson 28 (Collier 9), Notre Dame 33 (Turner 8). Assists--Clemson 16 (Carter 5), Notre Dame 18 (Allen 7). Total Fouls--Clemson 19, Notre Dame 12. A--8,378.

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale (2) drives by Clemson's Danielle Edwards (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin)