Notre Dame's women's basketball drives to convincing win over Georgia Tech

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – It takes a lot from the Notre Dame women’s basketball team to make coach Muffet McGraw really happy.

McGraw Sunday was bothered by her team’s defense and a bit by her players not going after loose balls aggressively enough.

“I am never satisfied, which can be good and bad. I just always think we can be better and I know we can be better,” she said.

But it would be hard to convince Georgia Tech of that.

The Irish had considerably more than enough on the positive side of the ledger to defeat the visiting Yellow Jackets, 90-69, in front of a capacity crowd and pull back into a dead heat with Florida State with a 10-1 record atop the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Florida State has a tough home game out of the conference Monday, hosting No. 11 Texas.

Georgia Tech coach Machelle Joseph was very aware of the Irish strengths.

“The balance Notre Dame has is why they are one of the top two or three teams in the country,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for their ability to make shots — tough shots — consistently from all over the floor.”

The Irish, 23-3, did that indeed, shooting 53.5 percent from the field. Four players scored in double figures, with sophomore Marina Mabrey leading the way with 25 points. Brianna Turner scored 21 to go with nine rebounds and five blocks, and Arike Ogunbowale had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Lindsay Allen added 12 points.

Mabrey missed her first two shots then converted 11 of her final 12.

“I just stayed with it,” Mabrey said, “and coach told me to drive.”

Drive she did, making many of her 11 baskets on slashing moves in the paint. ND had a 58-28 edge in points in the paint.

“Marina and Arike driving the ball helped,” said McGraw. “We were able to put the ball on the floor against them. We were able to attack them a little more when they put their best shooters on the floor, not their best defenders.”

Tech fell to 14-11 and 3-9 in ACC play, but Joseph, now in her 14th year with Georgia Tech, understood why her team could not match up with Notre Dame.

“The first time we played them it was early in the season (a Notre Dame victory, 55-38),'' she said. "I felt we were able to slow them down. This is what happens when you try to run with Notre Dame. You can’t control tempo and their transition is outstanding – one of the best offensive transition teams in the country.”

Notre Dame is averaging more than 82 points at home and had no trouble, despite playing a bit short-handed.

Junior Mychal Johnson is out at least another week with her shoulder injury, and sophomore point guard Ali Patberg did not dress, suffering from the flu. Compounding that, Kathryn Westbeld continues to play with a nagging ankle injury.

Nonetheless Westbeld logged 17 minutes and scored six points.

“Kat did not practice,” said McGraw. In fact, Westbeld has not practiced going into the last five games. “She has to get another MRI, but it is too soon. She is still in lot of pain.”

Pain is what senior Allen gave to Georgia Tech, despite a quiet game for her – one in which she registered only three assists.

“I think Lindsay Allen is the best point guard in the ACC and one of the top two or three point guards in the country,” said Joseph. “She is so unselfish. She facilitates. She is so efficient. She knows how to get her players shots in places they can score. She causes so many problems on the floor because of the way she picks your defense apart.''

Georgia Tech led the Irish, 19-14, in the first quarter, but an 18-3 Irish run essentially put the game away early in the second quarter.

Francesca Pan scored 24 points to lead Georgia Tech, and teammate Imani Tilford added 15.

The team’s leading scorer, Zaire O’Neil, was limited to nine points and five rebounds. She had 13 rebounds in the early-season meeting between the two teams.

“Trying to shoot over Bri (Turner), I think she got tired at the end of the game,'' McGraw said. "I thought Bri did a really good job on her defensively today.''

Now the regular season comes down to the final four games, starting Thursday at Clemson.

“There is no comparison where the ACC is,” said Joseph. “I can’t even fathom that this league won’t get at least eight teams in the NCAA tourney. It is the toughest, most competitive and deepest league that I have been a part of for 13 years.”

Joseph knows where the Irish stand.

“ND sits at the top, but there are some really special teams in this league this year, playing some really good basketball. This has to be the best league in the country top to bottom.”

With four more wins, the Irish can rule the league for the fourth consecutive year.

Georgia Tech (14-11): Elo Edeferioka 1-4 0-1 2, Zaire O'Neil 4-14 1-2 9, Katarina Vuckovic 2-6 1-2 6, Francesca Pan 10-23 0-2 24, Tilford 4-10 7-8 15, Francoise Diouf 0-0 0-0 0, Antonia Peresson 1-1 0-0 3, Kaylan Pugh 3-4 0-2 6, Chanin Scott 0-1 2-2 2, Cha'Ron Sweeney 1-2 0-0 2, Totals 26-65 11-19 69.

Notre Dame (23-3): Erin Boley 2-6 0-0 4, Brianna Turner 9-14 3-5 21, Lindsay Allen 5-8 1-1 12, Marina Mabrey 11-14 1-1 25, Arike Ogunbowale 6-17 5-7 18, Kristina Nelson 1-3 0-0 2, Kathryn Westbeld 3-5 0-0 6, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Jackie Young 1-4 0-0 2, Totals 38-71 10-14 90.

Georgia Tech 19 20 17 13 —69

Notre Dame 22 26 23 19 —90

3-Point Goals--Georgia Tech 6-14 (Vuckovic 1-4, Pan 4-8, Peresson 1-1, Sweeney 0-1), Notre Dame 4-15 (Boley 0-3, Allen 1-1, Mabrey 2-4, Ogunbowale 1-5, Westbeld 0-1, Young 0-1). Assists--Georgia Tech 11 (Vuckovic 3), Notre Dame 16 (Young 5). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Georgia Tech 33 (O'Neil 5), Notre Dame 43 (Ogunbowale 10). Total Fouls--Georgia Tech 15, Notre Dame 14. A--9,149.

Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey looks to drive past Georgia Tech's Elo Ederferioka Sunday at the Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/MIKE HARTMAN)