No Big Mac, but Notre Dame women's basketball satisfied with win

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The Irish are back in a familiar place.

After an 86-54 whacking of Pittsburgh Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion, the Notre Dame women’s basketball teams is back atop the standings of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Irish moved to 16-2 and are 4-1 in ACC play, currently sharing the lead with Florida State and Syracuse – all with the same record.

Duke is a step behind at 3-1 and Virginia Tech 2-1.

So the Irish are back in control of their league destiny. All the other one-loss teams still remain on the Notre Dame schedule as it tries to ultimately grab a fourth straight ACC crown.

The Thursday victory was the 157th straight time Notre Dame won when leading at halftime.

The start was not tasty and the end did not produce a Big Mac (when the Irish score 88 all the fans get a free Big Mac), but in between the Irish sandwiched an impressive offensive and defensive performance.

“I was happy with everything but not getting the Bic Mac,” joked Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who was not happy with seven first-quarter turnovers. “That was just sloppy. They were unforced turnovers. We have to come out with more intensity.”

But the Irish hit 57 percent of their shots in the second quarter, stretched the lead to 37-20 at at the half and led by as many as 35 points in the final period.

Arike Ogunbowale, as she has does nine times this year, led Notre Dame in scoring with 19 points, and some extended minutes of action led to some career highs for other Irish players.

“We really had good ball movement in the second half,” she said.

Freshman Jackie Young contributed 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds (her career high) and Kristina Nelson scored a career-high 13 points. Brianna Turner added 11 in only 23 minutes and Ali Patberg notched her first points of the season with two free throws in the first half.

“I am looking for Jackie to have games like this every time out,” said McGraw. “She gives us a spark off the bench. She can do so many things. Rebounding is among the most important but she is a great defender as well. We need her with her length to guard some of the bigger guards we are going to face.”

Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio even joked about the 86-point effort of the Irish.

“We ran our offense longer each possession to try to slow the game down,” she said. “They managed 86, but I apologize to those 8,000 fans. No Big Mac tonight.''

Brenna Wise and Alyna Gribble each scored 17 points for Pittsburgh.

“We knew coming in how good they are at every position,” McConnell-Serio said. “They got comfortable against our zone. They are very talented. And they just killed us on the boards.”

Notre Dame had a whopping 41-19 advantage in rebounds.

The Panthers, 10-7 (1-3), did score 34 points in the second half, but the Irish were using a lineup not accustomed to playing together in the zone.

Turner was paired in the low post with Nelson.

“Bri does not have a lot of experience defending on the wing,” McGraw said. “We gave up some shots there, but other than that it was pretty good.”

The Irish shot 50 percent for the game and 7-for-16 from the 3-point line.

"We are in a pretty good place offensively and defensively,'' McGraw said. "I see a lot of progress.”

Ogunbowale single-handedly hurt the Pittsburgh zone. She was 5-of-8 from the arc en route to her 19 points.

In contrast to recent games, when the Irish struggled at the free-throw line (the team was shooting only 67 percent entering the game), Thursday Notre Dame found its touch there, hitting 27 of 30 free throws for 90 percent. Young was perfect in seven free throws and Nelson was 7- for-10.

“That stretch on the road has made us tougher,” said McGraw. “We have been handling it well and we know what to expect.”

Three consecutive road games are ahead, starting Monday night at Tennessee.

Following that game against the Vols, Notre Dame travels to Boston College next Thursday and to North Carolina on Sunday, Jan. 22, before returning home again to play Duke on Jan. 26

Pittsburgh (10-7): Brenna Wise 6-12 5-5 17, Alayna Gribble 6-13 0-0 17, Brandi Harvey-Carr 3-10 2-3 8, Aysia Bugg 1-8 3-4 6, Kalista Walters 2-4 2-2 6, Kauai Bradley 0-1 0-0 0, Destinie Gibbs 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Serio 0-0 0-0 0, Cassidy Walsh 0-1 0-0 0, Jasmine Whitney 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 18-50 12-14 54.

Notre Dame (16-2): Arike Ogunbowale 6-11 2-2 19, Jackie Young 4-9 7-7 15, Kristina Nelson 3-6 7-10 13, Brianna Turner 4-7 3-3 11, Kathryn Westbeld 3-4 2-2 8, Marina Mabrey 2-4 2-2 7, Erin Boley 3-7 0-0 7, Lindsay Allen 1-3 0-0 2, Mychal Johnson 0-1 2-2 2, Ali Patberg 0-0 2-2 2, Totals 26-52 27-30 86.

Pittsburgh 7 20 37 54

Notre Dame 13 37 64 86

3-Point Goals-Pittsburgh 6-18 (Gribble 5-12, Bugg 1-2, Bradley 0-1, Harvey-Carr 0-2, Walsh 0-1), Notre Dame 7-16 (Ogunbowale 5-8, Mabrey 1-2, Boley 1-3, Westbeld 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Young 0-1). Assists-Pittsburgh 13 (Bugg 4), Notre Dame 16 (Allen 7). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Pittsburgh 19 (Wise 7), Notre Dame 41 (Young 8). Total Fouls-Pittsburgh 24, Notre Dame 14. A-8,137.

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) drives against Pitt’s Kalista Walters (32) during the Notre Dame women’s basketball game at Purcell Pavilion Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA