Notre Dame protects late lead, downs Wake Forest

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND

Typically, some of the top contributions Abby Prohaska makes for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team are things “you don’t even see on the stat sheet,” according to coach Niele Ivey, but this time, the Irish junior chipped in some notable numbers as well.

ND needed just about all those measurables and all those intangibles on the way to holding off Wake Forest for a 79-72 victory early Thursday evening at Purcell Pavilion.

With Maddy Westbeld delivering a career-high 25 points, a game-high nine rebounds, four assists and three steals on her way to continuing her claim as one of the nation’s best freshmen, and with the ever-scrappy Prohaska blending in eight points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals — against one turnover — Notre Dame (6-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) bounced back from its heartbreaking 64-61 loss last week at Boston College.

“She’s the toughest player that I have,” Ivey said of Prohaska. “Everyone feeds off her energy. She brings it every day. She’s always in the gym, always working on her game. She’s going to do whatever it takes. If that means taking a charge, get the rebound, get the defensive stop, she’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

For Prohaska, who missed all of last season while recovering from blood clots in both lungs, her assists were easily a career high, her steals were a season high and her eight points included six in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a team effort,” said Prohaska who delivered several sharp passes without hesitation. “I wouldn’t have gotten the assists that I did if Mik (Vaughn) and Maddy and Dara (Mabrey) and Destinee (Walker) didn’t finish the (plays). This was a team win, and I’m really proud of it, and I’m really excited for our game Sunday.”

That game will be the home rematch against BC just 10 days after the Irish blew a 12-point lead over the final three minutes during their road loss last week to the Eagles.

Momentarily, the battle with the Demon Deacons (6-4, 3-3) was turning into something remindful of that last contest, but this time, ND steadied itself well enough.

The Irish led 72-62 with less than three minutes to go, but Wake charged to within 75-72 at 26 seconds remaining, thanks in part to a pair of Notre Dame turnovers.

Anaya Peoples then hit 1-of-2 free throws at 25 ticks to restore the margin to multiple possessions, Wake’s Alexandria Scruggs slipped and traveled at 13 seconds to go for additional Irish assistance and Westbeld iced the game by nailing 3-of-4 at the stripe over the final 10 seconds.

“I felt like we had a really good 35 minutes last week, and then just unfortunately crumbled,” Ivey said, “so to see them respond and see their resiliency today, I was extremely proud of that.”

The Irish committed five turnovers in the fourth quarter as the Deacons amped up their pressure to full-court down the stretch, but still wound up with only 11 for the day, one outing after coughing up 23 at Boston College.

“I definitely feel like we learned from being in those situations last week,” Ivey said. “I think sometimes we get tight just because of the time and score. … I think it’s something we’re going to have to go through.”

Notre Dame also survived a dazzling second-half scoring display by Wake point guard Gina Conti, who poured in 26 of her 29 points after the break. Conti finished 8-of-12 outside the arc and added three steals.

Fellow senior Ivana Raca scored 17 points, but the reigning ACC Player of the Week was just 7-of-20 from the field, primarily against the defense of Vaughn, who blocked four shots, and Sam Brunelle in ND’s 2-3 zone.

Vaughn hit double digits offensively for the third straight game as well, scoring 14 points on 7-of-9 from the field. Mabrey and Walker added nine points apiece.

The hosts powered for 42 paint points, made 33-of-59 field goals overall for 56% and were credited with 22 assists, often excelling both in transition and in high-low finds.

“It’s just having the confidence, cutting hard, working to get open, setting good screens and just reading what they’re doing defensively,” Ivey said. “I think it’s something we’re going to continue to grow in.”

Westbeld finished 9-of-17 from the field, including 2-of-4 from distance, and 5-of-6 at the line.

“She’s one of the most confident players I’ve ever been around,” Ivey said. “She’s never (going to) back down from a challenge. She’s fearless, she’s always working on her game. She gets an opportunity to work with both (Coquese Washington and Carol Owens), so she’s working on the guard position and also on the post position. Her confidence really carries her every game.”

Notre Dame’s Sunday contest against Boston College starts at noon, with the schedule after that showing four straight road games, at least for the moment.

That streak was three before Virginia opted out of the rest of its season Thursday due to COVID-19 concerns. The Cavaliers were supposed to visit the Irish on Feb. 11.

ND might still make up games previously postponed against Pittsburgh at home and Syracuse on the road.

WAKE FOREST (6-4): Morra 3-7 1-1 7, Raca 7-20 3-3 17, Conti 10-16 1-2 29, Scruggs 1-6 0-2 2, Spear 4-9 1-1 11, Summiel 2-2 0-0 4, Harrison 1-1 0-0 2, Hoard 0-1 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 28-62 6-9 72

NOTRE DAME (6-5): Westbeld 9-17 5-6 25, Vaughn 7-9 0-0 14, Mabrey 3-8 2-2 9, Peoples 3-6 2-4 8, Prohaska 4-7 0-0 8, Brunelle 2-4 0-0 4, Walker 4-7 0-0 9, Hayes 1-1 0-0 2, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 33-59 9-12 79

Wake Forest 16 9 24 23 — 72

Notre Dame 19 18 20 22 — 79

3-Point Goals_Wake Forest 10-27 (Raca 0-3, Conti 8-12, Scruggs 0-4, Spear 2-7, Hoard 0-1), Notre Dame 4-10 (Westbeld 2-4, Mabrey 1-3, Prohaska 0-1, Brunelle 0-1, Walker 1-1). Assists_Wake Forest 14 (Scruggs 5), Notre Dame 22 (Prohaska 7). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Wake Forest 33 (Summiel 4-7), Notre Dame 30 (Westbeld 2-9). Total Fouls_Wake Forest 11, Notre Dame 9. Technical Fouls_None. A_50.