Notre Dame women plaster Florida State, secure sixth straight conference title

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – It was the most impressive effort, and it came at just the right time.

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team, efficient on offense and defense, smacked No. 8 Florida State Sunday, 79-61, in front of a capacity crowd at Purcell Pavilion. In so doing, the Irish capped their fourth consecutive regular-season championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The streak of titles is now actually six in a row. The Irish also won the title the last two seasons they were in the Big East Conference. The last team to win four straight ACC titles was Duke in 2004.

“That probably was the best game we played all year,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “Our zone (defense) was very good. We had a little upheaval in the third quarter (when Florida State scored eight straight to end the period). That was probably the only negative of the whole game.”

Now the No. 5 Irish, 27-3 and 15-1 in the ACC will be off until they play at 2 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC postseason tourney. Notre Dame goes in as the No. 1 seed and Florida State settles for No. 2. Florida State finished the regular season at 25-5 (13-3). Notre Dame is 7-1 this season against Top 25 teams.

The Irish raced to a first-quarter 10-point lead, were up by 13 at halftime and never let the Seminoles get closer than nine in the second half.

Looking for stars? They were everywhere for the Irish.

Kathryn Westbeld, still not practicing after a bone bruise in her ankle weeks ago, logged 31 impressive minutes. She scored 14 points, tied for a team-high six rebounds and dished out four assists.

With the Irish only up by nine, 64-55, Westbeld hit a deep 3-pointer from the right corner just beating the shot clock. Before this game, in which she hit two 3-pointers, Westbeld was 2 of 11 from beyond the arc this season.

“Kathryn’s 3 at the buzzer was huge,” said McGraw, “and the way we were able to get the ball into (Brianna Turner).”

Westbeld said she felt alright after the game, but was aware of her diving on the floor for loose balls.

“Probably more than I should have, but anything I can do honestly — whatever it takes,” she said.

“She’s just a gamer,” McGraw said of Westbeld. “She wanted to play. Not sure what she can do in the tournament. She probably won’t practice until then.”

Turner led all scorers with 24 points, but made her presence felt on the defensive end as well with five blocked shots. She, like Westbeld, grabbed six rebounds.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau, gracious in defeat, praised Turner.

“Brianna is not only long, but she has great timing,” Semrau said. “Brianna is a great defender. But it's not just Turner. You have to make choices when playing Notre Dame. The choice is Turner for a layup or (Marina) Mabrey for a 3.”

Semrau was wowed by the crowd at Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame played a great game,” she said. “What a tremendous atmosphere. We haven’t played in an atmosphere like this. To have that many people (9,149) get excited about a layup or a 3-point shot... When you haven’t been in that situation, it is a little bit deflating.”

Sophomore Arike Ogunbowale, aggressive as always, scored 19 for the Irish.

McGraw was all smiles.

“We played a very intelligent game. That was improvement there,” she said “We were anointed early (preseason No. 1) and didn’t handle it very well. We earned our way back. I think that says a lot for this team. I had a lot of joy out there today. They rose to the challenge.”

Not lost in the celebration of the ACC title was the fact that senior Lindsay Allen was credited with nine assists. That gives her 778 in her career, now tied for first all-time with Mary Gavin, who set the standard in 1988. Allen is only seven assists away from tying Sharnee Zoll, who played at Virginia and holds the ACC all-time record of 785.

“Lindsay is amazing,” said McGraw. “She is somebody we completely rely on. Everybody relaxes when she has the ball in her hands.”

Brittany Brown led the Seminoles with 16 points, while Letitia Romero added 14 and Shakayla Thomas 10. Thomas, the most athletic of the Seminoles, missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. She played with a brace on her left shoulder.

Sunday’s Notre Dame triumph was its 42nd consecutive conference victory when playing at home. The Irish never have lost a home game to an ACC rival since joining the league four seasons ago.

FLORIDA STATE (25-5): Slaughter 1-2 0-0 2, Thomas 5-12 0-0 10, Brown 7-12 2-3 16, Romero 5-7 2-2 14, Wright 2-14 0-0 5, Conde 2-6 0-0 4, Degbeon 1-2 1-2 3, White 0-1 0-0 0, Ekhomu 2-4 2-2 7, Totals 25-60 7-9 61.

NOTRE DAME (27-3): Turner 11-15 2-3 24, Westbeld 6-9 0-0 14, Allen 2-4 2-2 6, Mabrey 3-9 0-0 8, Ogunbowale 7-14 1-2 19, Boley 1-2 0-0 3, Patberg 0-0 0-0 0, Young 1-4 2-2 5, Totals 31-57 7-9 79.

Florida St. 15 15 18 13—61

Notre Dame 25 18 16 20—79

3-Point Goals--Florida St. 4-14 (Brown 0-2, Romero 2-3, Wright 1-7, Ekhomu 1-2), Notre Dame 10-18 (Westbeld 2-3, Mabrey 2-6, Ogunbowale 4-7, Boley 1-1, Young 1-1). Assists--Florida St. 10 (Brown 3), Notre Dame 24 (Allen 9). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Florida St. 32 (Brown 6), Notre Dame 32 (Turner 6). Total Fouls--Florida St. 9, Notre Dame 9. A--9,149.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (24) and Jackie Young (5) work together to block a shot by Florida State’s Imani Wright (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 79-61. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN