Notre Dame women's hoops team dismisses Clemson in record fashion

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame flirted with flawless — and even with foul-less — during major chunks of a 90-37 women’s basketball runaway win over Clemson on Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.

Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young scored 23 points apiece and combined for nine assists as the No. 5-ranked Irish racked up their largest victory margin ever in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest.

“I thought that was a well-played game from start to finish,” ND coach Muffet McGraw said. “Overall, just really great stuff on offense. I think defensively, we’re starting to get better.”

The Irish, in their fifth season in the ACC, eclipsed a 46-point game three years ago against Boston College for their widest win margin within the league.

They also wasted little time dispensing of any notion that there might be a hangover effect following their emotional, record-setting comeback from 23 points down in Thursday’s 84-70 victory over No. 6 Tennessee.

“I was a little worried about our focus at the shoot-around today,” McGraw said, “but we came out ready, so I think maybe we’re just a little bit looser than we’ve been in the past.”

As has been typical of late — and necessary with ND down to seven healthy scholarship players — foul trouble was a pleasurably foreign concept for the hosts.

Without sacrificing aggressiveness and effectiveness in their zone, the Irish committed just one foul in the first half while building a 48-21 lead.

Over their last four games, they’ve finished with just 11, 10, six and eight fouls. Only twice in that span has an individual picked up three in a game. Nobody has registered four.

“I think we’re playing smarter,” McGraw said. “I think that’s probably the biggest improvement we’ve made. We’re able to pressure the ball, but still not get into any kind of foul trouble. I think they want to stay on the court. They know how important it is, so I think they’re really thinking about that when they’re guarding people.”

Notre Dame (18-2) moved to 6-1 in the ACC, while dropping the Tigers (11-9) to 1-6.

Jessica Shepard contributed 17 points, nine rebounds and a career-best five steals to the cause, while Kathryn Westbeld finished with 14 points and nine boards.

Westbeld was dominant early, netting 12 points within the first 11 minutes.

“I think she’s capable of that,” McGraw said of the savvy senior who typically falls in line behind Ogunbowale, Young, Shepard and Marina Mabrey statistically. “I think she’s the unsung hero on our team. She steps up when we need her, then she allows other people to do what they can do also.”

Plenty of ND players were enabling others to do what they did Sunday as the team dished 22 assists.

“It’s fun,” Young said of the benevolence. “Everybody out there can score the ball, but it’s just about having fun and being unselfish. Somebody’s going to get going every night. Tonight it was Kat at the beginning of the game, so we just had to be unselfish and keep feeding her the ball. We just have to keep doing what’s working.”

Westbeld finished 5-of-6 from the field and Shepard 8-of-9 as Notre Dame closed at 37-of-60 for 62 percent. In the first half, the Irish hit 21-of-31 for 68 percent.

They also held Clemson to just 15-of-58 for 26 percent, forced 23 turnovers and finished with a season-best 17 steals, one game after grabbing 15 against Tennessee.

“We’re trying to trap a little bit more, trying to get in the passing lanes more,” McGraw said. “I think we can still improve, but it was definitely a better effort today.”

On the other hand, “I thought we were really careless with the ball,” the coach said of the 15 turnovers by her own team. “We can do a lot better taking care of the ball.”

Nevertheless, the Irish shredded a club that went into the game ranked 11th in the nation in field goal defense at 34.6 percent and 20th in scoring defense at 55.6.

Notre Dame led 75-34 after three quarters, giving the Irish three more points than the Tigers had allowed in any previous full game this season.

Clemson was paced by sophomore Kobi Thornton with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

ND, which won its 19th straight home game overall and improved to 36-0 all-time in ACC home games, hits the road for three of its next four outings beginning with Thursday’s contest at Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame's Jackie Young, right, drives the ball past Clemson's Francesca Tagliapietra (10) during ND's 90-37 rout Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)