Notre Dame women's basketball share the fun in rout

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — It takes six big steps to win a national championship in the college’s women’s NCAA tournament and the first one was easy for Notre Dame.

Playing perhaps its best basketball in a long while for three quarters, the Irish raced to an 81-40 advantage, then cruised through a sloppy fourth quarter before finally putting away North Carolina A&T 95-61 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tourney at Purcell Pavilion

The No. 2-ranked 32-1 Irish will meet Indiana Monday night (6:30 p.m. ET) for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 in Lexington next weekend. The Aggies are finished at 19-12. The victory was the 25th straight for Notre Dame.

“We played a great three quarters,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “I was pleased with our zone offense. I was happy with everything.”

She was not pleased with the way her team finished the game. Notre Dame committed 10 turnovers in the final quarter and was outscored 21-14.

“It bothers me we got a big lead and did not stay hungry,” McGraw said. “I want us to stay hungry. We lost pride in our defense and had too many turnovers.”

But the Irish still were dominant. They outscored the Aggies 52-18 in the paint, and the reserves outscored North Carolina A&T’s reserves, 45-23. Notre Dame also won the rebound battle 46-32 and shot 58.6 percent, holding the Aggies to 32.8 percent.

A&T coach Tarrell Robinson said the loss “…was not a bad omen for me. It was my first time (in the NCAA tourney) as a head coach. We played one of the best teams in the country. I talked to my team about keeping the moment, the memory. Notre Dame displayed some of the most selfless basketball I have seen. That’s how I want my women to play.”

Notre Dame’s 29 assists were the most by an Irish team in their NCAA tourney history.

Notre Dame took the Aggies out of their rhythm by doubling down defensively on center April McRae and also closely guarding Dana Brown, A&T’s best shooter.

Irish sophomore Brianna Turner explained how the Irish scored 52 points in the paint. “We got great passes from our guards,” said Turner, who led Notre Dame in scoring with 16 points. “They kept getting us the ball in the right spot,”

Even when she was on the bench, the Irish domination inside continued. Sophomore Kathryn Westbeld added 12 points for Notre Dame on 6-of-7 shooting. Turner was 7-of-8 shooting.

Every player on the Irish roster scored, and six finished in double figures. Madison Cable added 15 points, and she, along with Westbeld and Arike Ogunbowale all had seven rebounds to lead Notre Dame in that category.

“We hadn’t played for a while. We wanted to be focused and stick to the game plan,” said Cable, explaining the Irish torrid start. “We are excited to advance to the second round. We will practice Sunday and get prepared.”

Kala Green paced the Aggies with 12 points, while Brown finished with 11 and McRae 10.

It was the blistering first half that paved the way for the Irish. Notre Dame sizzled en route to a 52-24 halftime lead, shooting 65.6 percent during those opening two quarters. During that first half Notre Dame had 20 assists on 21 baskets. Only a drive the length of the court and a layin by Westbeld prevented the Irish from assisting on every basket.

NC A&T (19-12): April McRae 4-10 2-2 10, Dana Brown 4-8 0-0 11, Kala Green 5-18 0-2 12, Courtney Powell 0-3 3-6 3, Christina Carter 1-8 0-0 2, Rejoice Spivey 0-0 0-0 0, Whitney Martin 1-5 0-0 3, Charnise Tyler 2-5 3-7 7, Adriana Nazario 1-4 0-0 3, Maiya Gibson 0-0 0-0 0, Kenya Hailey 2-2 1-4 5, Michelle Fitzgerald 1-2 1-2 3, Quenswayla Story 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-67 10-23 61.

NOTRE DAME (32-1): Brianna Turner 7-8 2-2 16, Lindsay Allen 0-0 1-2 1, Madison Cable 7-11 0-0 15, Michaela Mabrey 2-5 0-0 6, Kathryn Westbeld 6-7 0-1 12, Arike Ogunbowale 3-8 5-6 11, Marina Mabrey 3-7 7-8 13, Mychal Johnson 3-5 3-6 12, Kristina Nelson 1-3 2-2 4, Hannah Huffman 2-4 0-0 4, Diamond Thompson 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 34-58 21-29 95.

NC A&T 13 11 16 21—61

Notre Dame 25 27 29 14—95

3-Point Goals-NC A&T 7-23 (Brown 3-6, Green 2-6, Nazario 1-3, Martin 1-3, Fitzgerald 0-1, Carter 0-2, Tyler 0-2), Notre Dame 6-12 (Johnson 3-3, Mi. Mabrey 2-5, Cable 1-3, Ma. Mabrey 0-1). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-NC A&T 32 (McRae 7), Notre Dame 46 (Cable, Ogunbowale, Westbeld 7). Assists-NC A&T 13 (Carter 6), Notre Dame 29 (Allen 10). Total Fouls-NC A&T 24, Notre Dame 21. A-NA.

Notre Dame's Hannah Huffman (24) passes the ball to teammate Marina Mabrey (3) as she falls to the floor during the teams first round NCAA match up against North Carolina A&T Saturday, March 19, 2016 in South Bend. The Fighting Irish beat the Aggies 95-61. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ