Defense keys rally as Notre Dame advances to ACC title game

Ken Kilmek
Tribune Correspondent

GREENSBORO, N. C. — Pushed and tested for nearly three quarters, Notre Dame on Saturday did exactly what it has so many times this season to overcome upset-minded opponents.

It used its balance, its defense and its culture to turn a game around and save a victory.

Trailing 47-44 with 6:23 to play in the third period, the second-ranked and top-seeded Irish unleashed a 28-10 salvo to take a 15-point lead with 5:11 remaining in the game with 21st-ranked Miami.

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Notre Dame registered a 78-67 ACC Tournament semifinal victory.

The win pushes coach Muffet McGraw’s team to a 30-1 record — the sixth straight season with 30 wins — and sends the Irish to a third consecutive ACC championship game — one for each year the Irish have been in the league.

Notre Dame will meet No. 3 seed Syracuse, which upset seventh-ranked and No. 2 seed Louisville, 80-75, in Saturday’s second semifinal game at the Greensboro Coliseum. The championship game will tip off at 12:30 pm.

No. 17 Syracuse is 25-6 and will be playing for a conference championship for the first time since 1988, when it was in the Big East.

“You know, it’s a tough, tough turnaround with a 12:30 game,” McGraw said, looking ahead to Syracuse. “I think both teams are going to be a little fatigued.

“We were able to use our bench a lot (in Friday’s quarterfinal victory over Duke). We were able to sub a little bit today, and I think that will help us. We do have some fresh bodies just raring to go, but I think for both teams it’s going to be a war.”

Notre Dame defeated Syracuse, 90-62, on Jan. 21 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish defense was one of the catalysts that turned the game around for Notre Dame in its semifinal victory on Saturday.

After giving up eight 3-point baskets to Miami (24-8) in the first half, McGraw switched to a man-to-man defense and limited the Hurricanes to .143 shooting beyond the arc for the balance of the game. Miami only made one 3-point shot in the second half.

The Irish offensive balance proved to be another major factor as four players scored in double figures. Sophomore Brianna Turner led the attack with 17 points and a team-leading nine rebounds.

Miami coach Katie Meier gave credit to the Irish culture after the game.

“I wish I wasn’t coaching against such a great coach,” she said. “Boy, can she run a play for a player to score when they need it, and it’s unbelievable.”

Meier credited the Notre Dame balance as well.

“Anytime that we took the lead or they were on the ropes or whatever, they hit a big shot — and it as a different kid each time.”

With ND trailing 47-44, Irish sophomore Mychal Johnson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game. Madison Cable followed with two free throws, and Lindsay Allen hit a short jumper to put the Irish on top, 51-47.

Allen followed with two more baskets, Kathryn Westbeld added another, and Arike Ogunbowale hit a shot with 2.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

That gave the Irish a 59-51 lead, and the margin reached 14, 69-55, with 5:53 to play when Michaela Mabrey hit a running jump shot.

“We’re just such a team,” McGraw beamed. “We don’t have one player that is going to carry the load the whole year.

“You look at our scoring. Our leading scorer averages about 14 points a game. Really, we’re the type of team that’s just going to feed the hot hand. And whoever has it, that’s where we’re going to go.”

Notre Dame had plenty of offensive choices in the victory over the Hurricanes. Allen and Cable each added 14, while Westbeld added 10 and Michaela Mabrey nine.

Allen led the Irish with eight assists and six rebounds, the same number grabbed by Hannah Huffman, who logged 22 minutes Saturday for the Irish. Cable’s 14 points leave her one shy of the 1,000 point club entering Sunday’s clash.

Jessica Thomas led Miami with 17 points. Michelle Woods added 13 and Adrienne Motley 10 for the Hurricanes.

Among the Irish fans in attendance Saturday was Mary Jane Goodwin, who was celebrating her 99th birthday in the seats at Greensboro Coliseum.

“I work at Notre Dame (in Purcell Pavilion on game days), and have followed the team ever since coach McGraw came here,” she said.

No. 2 NOTRE DAME 78, No. 21 MIAMI 67

MIAMI (24-8): Keyona Hayes 2-4 0-0 5, Erykah Davenport 3-4 2-3 8, Jessica Thomas 6-16 0-0 17, Michelle Woods 4-13 4-4 13, Adrienne Motley 3-13 2-2 10, Keyanna Harris 2-4 0-0 4, Laura Cornelius 1-2 0-0 2, Nigia Greene 0-0 0-0 0, Emese Hof 4-5 0-0 8, Zada Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Khaila Prather 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 8-9 67.

NOTRE DAME (30-1): Brianna Turner 5-10 7-12 17, Kathryn Westbeld 5-9 0-0 10, Lindsay Allen 5-10 4-4 14, Madison Cable 4-10 4-4 14, Michaela Mabrey 2-3 4-6 9, Arike Ogunbowale 1-5 0-0 2, Marina Mabrey 2-2 2-2 7, Mychal Johnson 1-3 0-0 3, Kristina Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 1-2 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 21-28 78.

Miami 19 19 13 16—67

Notre Dame 23 16 20 19—78

3-Point Goals--Miami 9-23 (Thomas 5-9, Motley 2-6, Hayes 1-2, Woods 1-5, Harris 0-1), Notre Dame 5-9 (Cable 2-4, Ma. Mabrey 1-1, Johnson 1-2, Mi. Mabrey 1-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Miami 28 (Hayes 5), Notre Dame 38 (Turner 9). Assists--Miami 13 (Thomas 5), Notre Dame 13 (Allen 8). Total Fouls--Miami 21, Notre Dame 16. A--NA.

Miami's Erykah Davenport (30) shoots over Notre Dame's Brianna Turner (11) during the first half of ND's ACC Tourney semifinal victory Saturday at Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/CHUCK BURTON)

WHO: No 2 Notre Dame (30-1) vs. No. 17 Syracuse (25-6).

WHEN: Sunday at 12:30 pm (EST)

WHERE: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.

TV: ESPN

INTERNET: WatchND

RADIO: Pulse FM, 96.9

GAME NOTES: Syracuse is coached by Quentin Hillsman, in his 10th season with the Orange. ... Syracuse guard Alexis Peterson, the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 per game, almost played for the Irish. Her mother said Saturday Alexis wanted to play at Notre Dame until the Irish locked up then-recruit Lindsay Allen. ... Brianna Butler adds 14.1 points a game, followed by Bria Day at 10.2. ... Notre Dame enters the championship game having won 56 of 57 games since joining the ACC. ... The victory over Miami gave Notre Dame a 9-1 record vs. ranked teams this season.