Notre Dame still seeks defensive 'attitude' after win over Cavs

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — There were so many positives for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team to enjoy after posting an 82-74 victory Sunday over Virginia.

But a lot of the smiles with the victory were faded by a recurring negative that is constantly haunting Irish coach Muffet McGraw as a promising campaign is nearing the home stretch of the regular season.

“It happens all the time," said McGraw. "Our mindset is that we are going to outscore you. We don’t care how many points you get, we are going to score more. That is a terrible, terrible mindset to have.”

McGraw is upset by her team’s defensive play. Yet, despite the defensive deficiencies, it was indeed a day the Irish could feel good about.

It was 23rd time the Irish, 20-3, have reached the 20-win plateau in the last 24 years. The triumph pulls the Irish into a first-place tie with Florida State – both carrying 8-1 records in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Florida State was idle Sunday.

After the game the Irish and most of a sold-out crowd at Purcell Pavilion celebrated assistant coach Mary Beth Cunningham’s entrance into the Notre Dame ring of honor. She joined Ruth Riley, Skylar Diggins and Niele Ivey with a banner in the rafters.

The Irish offense was torrid – 82 being the most points Virginia has allowed all season.

“I was pleased with our offense,” said McGraw. “Arike (Ogunbowale) had a great game – 21 points and seven rebounds.”

So did Marina Mabrey, who led all Irish scorers with 26 points, including a 10-of-12 performance at the free-throw line. Mabrey had nine points in the pivotal fourth quarter when Notre Dame outscored the Cavaliers 17-9 in the final six minutes.

“Our game plan was to get the ball to Marina,” said McGraw. “She is our best free-throw shooter.”

Mabrey hit four 3-pointers, the same as Ogunbowale, who was four-for-four from beyond the arc.

Yet the outcome game may have been the result of another Irish player. Kathryn Westbeld, who celebrated her 21st birthday Sunday, was not supposed to play, still nursing a gimpy ankle hurt a couple of weeks ago and aggravated by her 26-minute effort Thursday against Duke.

In her three minutes in the first half and the six minutes in the second half, Westbeld led a spurt that helped the Irish in both halves spurt from tie game situations. Her play in the high post makes the Irish offense so much smoother. She helped an 11-2 spurt to close the second quarter and was instrumental early in the fourth quarter when the Irish jumped from a tie at 63 to a 74-65 advantage.

Virginia coach Joanne Boyle recognized Westbeld’s impact. “She is a great passer," Boyle said. "She is a great connector kid. She really gets people to the spots where they can be really successful. She can shoot the ball so you can’t play off her. She is a seasoned player with a high basketball IQ.”

Westbeld’s work in the high post paved the way for the fourth-quarter rally. She scored only four points and had two rebounds, but she made the Irish offense purr.

“They have been in situations like that time and again,” said Boyle. “They know how to capitalize.”

Lindsay Allen continued to post impressive numbers for Notre Dame, with 10 assists and 11 rebounds – high on the team in that category. It was the third successive double-digit assist game for Allen. Only Notre Dame’s Mary Gavin had ever accomplished that before. Gavin did it three times, the last in 1988. Allen now has 735 career assists, third all-time in Notre Dame history behind Gavin (778) and Skylar Diggins (745).

Brianna Turner played only six minutes in the first half, sitting with two fouls. She had no points and no rebounds in the first half. But the junior post had nine points and eight rebounds in the second half.

More than 75 percent of the Irish scoring was done by freshmen and sophomores (Erin Boley, who started for Westbeld, and Jackie Young each scored seven points).

But McGraw would trade some of that offense for what she thinks is pivotal for her team down the stretch: Defense.

“Defensively we have so much work to do, and most of it is just attitude," McGraw said. "We have to get the attitude that we want to defend. If we can find five people who want to do that, we will be really good. It has been difficult to find someone who wants to defend, rebound and who has that toughness.”

The Irish will get another chance to work on its defense when it hits the road again Thursday, playing Virginia Tech.

VIRGINIA (14-7): Jocelyn Willoughby 7-11 1-1 16, J'Kyra Brown 5-14 3-4 14, Lauren Moses 5-12 4-6 14, Breyana Mason 5-14 1-2 12, Dominique Toussaint 4-12 0-0 9, Mone Jones 2-3 1-2 7, Felicia Aiyeotan 1-1 0-0 2, Aliyah Huland El 0-4 0-0 0, Lisa Jablonowski 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 29-71 10-15 74.

NOTRE DAME (20-3): Marina Mabrey 6-13 10-12 26, Arike Ogunbowale 6-10 5-8 21, Brianna Turner 4-7 1-3 9, Erin Boley 3-4 0-0 7, Jackie Young 2-5 3-4 7, Lindsay Allen 2-6 1-3 5, Kathryn Westbeld 2-3 0-0 4, Kristina Nelson 1-4 1-2 3, Ali Patberg 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-52 21-32 82.

Virginia 17 19 16 22—74

Notre Dame 22 22 17 21—82

3-Point Goals--Virginia 6-16 (Jones 2-2, Brown 1-6, Mason 1-3, Toussaint 1-3, Willoughby 1-1, Huland El 0-1), Notre Dame 9-17 (Mabrey 4-11, Ogunbowale 4-4, Boley 1-1, Allen 0-1). Assists--Virginia 16 (Mason 6), Notre Dame 22 (Allen 10). Fouled Out--Virginia Jones, Rebounds--Virginia 37 (Willoughby 9), Notre Dame 40 (Allen 11). Total Fouls--Virginia 24, Notre Dame 15. A--9,149.

Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale shoots over Virginia's 6-foot-9 Felicia Aiyeotan, Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/ MIKE HARTMAN)