Notre Dame women lock up third consecutive ACC title

Ken Klimek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The amazing Irish run continues.

Notre Dame powered to its third straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship Sunday with a business-like 68-57 victory over Syracuse at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The 31-1 Irish actually have won four straight postseason crowns, having won the Big East title four years ago before leaving for the ACC.

No. 2-ranked Notre Dame opened a 15-point lead, 37-22, midway through the second quarter and never let the 25-7 and No. 17 Orange get closer than nine points. Notre Dame led by double figures for all but about 30 seconds of the second half.

“I’m so proud of what we accomplished,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “We battled adversity early (in the season), overcame it and just kept moving forward.”

The victory came with plenty of personal rewards. Lindsay Allen, Brianna Turner and Madison Cable were named to the all-conference first team, with Cable being selected the most valuable player.

Cable acknowledged that winning the MVP award did “feel great. But without either of these two beside me (Allen and Turner) it wouldn’t have happened. It just feels good to win this title.”

Cable, who shared team scoring honors with Turner with 18, also entered the Notre Dame 1,000-point club with her first basket of the game, a 3-pointer with 4:31 to play in the opening period. She is the 34th Notre Dame player to score at least 1,000 points. Cable finished with six baskets beyond the arc — a career best.

Turner also had 11 rebounds. Allen, leading the Irish against a bothersome Syracuse full-court press, had six assists, eight points and only two turnovers.

“I am going to enjoy this, and enjoy going home (to Texas),” Turner said while celebrating on the floor after the game.

As has been the Irish way this season, many contributed to the Irish victory. Sophomore Kathryn Westbeld hit four consecutive jump shots in the first quarter. When Syracuse started to pay more attention to her, it opened up the low post for Turner’s scoring. Westbeld finished with 10 points.

Notre Dame has a week off before NCAA tourney pairings and sites are announced Monday, March 14. The Irish are expected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney, and are a likely bet for the regional in Sioux Falls, S.D., if they advance.

Notre Dame became the second ACC team to sweep three straight regular-season and postseason championships. Duke was the other.

Syracuse was led by Alexis Peterson with 19 points. Peterson joined the Irish trio on the all-tourney team, along with Myisha Hines-Allen of Louisville.

McGraw has said that this team has exceeded her expectations. What might she expect of them now as the NCAA tourney approaches?

“I haven’t told them yet,” she deadpanned. “I always expect big things from this group because they never disappoint. They know where they want to go and they know how hard it is to get there. They’re willing to put the work in.”

The Irish defense gave Syracuse fits. The Orange shot only 4-of-23 from the 3-point line and shot 38.6 for the game. Notre Dame was 8-19 from the 3-point line and shot 42.6 percent for the afternoon.

The Irish are off on spring break until they gather the night the NCAA tourney pairings are announced. The coaches, meanwhile, will mix the idle week with some recruiting trips.

The fourth quarter was not a picture of beauty. Notre Dame scored only seven points, focusing more on burning the clock instead of piling up points. But Syracuse could not counter, scoring only 10 in that final period.

Notre Dame had smashed Syracuse, 90-62, in January.

“They have improved,” said McGraw. “They should have a good tournament.”

SYRACUSE (25-7): Alexis Peterson 6-14 4-4 19, Isabella Slim 0-1 0-2 0, Brianna Butler 2-9 1-2 6, Brittney Sykes 2-7 1-2 5, Briana Day 8-12 1-1 17, Julia Chandler 0-1 0-0 0, Maggie Morrison 0-2 0-0 0, Cornelia Fondren 4-9 2-2 10, Taylor Ford 0-1 0-0 0, Bria Day 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 9-13 57.

NOTRE DAME (31-1): Brianna Turner 5-12 8-12 18, Lindsay Allen 3-6 1-2 8, Madison Cable 6-14 0-0 18, Michaela Mabrey 1-4 0-0 3, Kathryn Westbeld 5-8 0-0 10, Arike Ogunbowale 2-7 1-1 5, Marina Mabrey 1-2 0-0 2, Mychal Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 2-6 0-0 4. Totals 25-59 10-15 68.

Syracuse 14 16 17 10—57

Notre Dame 22 20 19 7—68

3-Point Goals--Syracuse 4-23 (Peterson 3-8, Butler 1-7, Slim 0-1, Fondren 0-1, Chandler 0-1, Ford 0-1, Morrison 0-2, Sykes 0-2), Notre Dame 8-19 (Cable 6-9, Allen 1-2, Mi. Mabrey 1-4, Huffman 0-1, Ogunbowale 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Syracuse 29 (Fondren 8), Notre Dame 42 (Turner 11). Assists--Syracuse 6 (Peterson, Sykes 2), Notre Dame 18 (Allen 6). Total Fouls--Syracuse 16, Notre Dame 16. A--5,017.

Notre Dame players including Madison Cable, center, wait for the awards ceremony after an NCAA college basketball championship game against Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 6, 2016. Notre Dame won 68-57. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)