SOUTH BEND — There indeed were reasons to smile and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw saluted the Purcell Pavilion crowd of 9,149, wishing them a happy New Year after her team downed Georgia Tech, 85-76, Wednesday night in women’s college basketball.
But the look on her face after the 12th Irish victory in 13 games didn't necessarily reflect a party atmosphere.
“I wished the crowd happy New Year, but it is not the New Year yet. I was disappointed in our post defense tonight. Defensively we still have a lot of weaknesses,” McGraw said.
“Our teams in the past, no matter who we were playing, wanted to win by 50. This team is a little different,” McGraw said, recognizing that her team has had a tendency to let huge leads evaporate. “We have to realize each game is important. We are not going to win just by showing up. We have to take a business-like approach to each game.”
Nonetheless, the victory was Notre Dame’s 10th straight in conference openers and gets them off on the right foot in league play with Atlantic Coast Conference road games coming up against Pittsburgh (Sunday) and Virginia (Thursday).
An explosive middle two quarters, when the Irish outscored Georgia Teach 49-29, provided the cushion they needed.
Two quick 3-point shots by Michaela Mabrey sparked the Irish at the start of the third quarter, when a 14-4 spurt stretched the ND lead from 42-32 to 56-36. A steal and basket by Madison Cable soon after gave the Irish their largest lead at 64-41 halfway through the third period.
“We squandered that big lead,'' McGraw said. "We didn’t defend and had poor shot selection.”
After Georgia Tech cut the lead to eight at 75-67 at the 3:52 mark of the fourth quarter, Cable buried a three to stop the Tech comeback.
“She has made so many shots for us at cricital moments,” noted McGraw.
Cable tied her career high with five 3-pointers on the way to a 19-point night.
“They are hard to cover,” said Yellow Jackets coach Machelle Joseph. “One reason is they make the extra pass. They are unselfish and share the basketball. They have three of the best 3-point shooters in the league. And when they went to the triangle and two defense, it bothered us.”
The Irish triangle and two did slow two of Tech’s best shooters, Aaliyah Whiteside and Rodrekka Rogers, but 5-foot-5 freshman guard Ciani Cyror shredded Notre Dame’s defense with 16 second-half points.
“We didn’t defend them down low,'' McGraw said. "They took advantage of mismatches and we didn’t. I thought we had Bri (Brianna Turner) open low with a guard on her, but we didn’t get the ball to her.”
But Turner did have a productive night, leading the Irish with 20 points, including 6 of 9 shots from the floor and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Cable added her 19, while freshmen Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey each scored 11.
“I was open tonight,” said Turner. “Last game I missed some shots. I tried to concentrate tonight.”
Cryor’s 19 topped Georgia Tech. Whiteside and Rogers added 17 each.
“I am very impressed with Notre Dame,” said the Tech coach, a four-year starter for Purdue during her collegiate days. “The way they step and make plays is impressive. We battled for 22 minutes tonight, but have to learn to battle for 40 minutes.”
Despite some team shortcomings in McGraw’s eyes, the Irish coach does have reason to smile as the New Year approaches. Her team is 12-1, ranked No. 3 in the country and still has the depth and talent to make another run at an ACC regular-season championship.
All during the early season, she has said it will be January or February before her squad would gel. But the pieces to the puzzle are there. And McGraw, by her own admission, loves solving puzzles.
Next up is the 3 p.m. Sunday matchup at Pittsburgh.
GEORGIA TECH (10-4): Imani Tilford 2-4 0-0 4, Aaliyah Whiteside 4-13 7-8 17, Katarina Vuckovic 1-4 0-0 3, Irene Gari 3-8 0-0 7, Roddreka Rogers 7-10 3-5 17, Ciani Cryor 8-12 0-0 19, Chelsea Guimaraes 2-4 0-0 4, Zaire O'Neil 2-5 1-2 5, Dejoria Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Antonia Peresson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-60 11-15 76.
NOTRE DAME (12-1): Brianna Turner 6-9 8-9 20, Lindsay Allen 2-3 3-4 7, Madison Cable 7-12 0-0 19, Michaela Mabrey 3-9 0-0 9, Kathryn Westbeld 3-7 2-2 8, Arike Ogunbowale 4-10 2-2 11, Marina Mabrey 4-7 1-1 11, Mychal Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-58 16-18 85.
Georgia Tech 22 10 19 25—76
Notre Dame 21 21 28 15—85
3-Point Goals-Georgia Tech 7-15 (Cryor 3-6, Whiteside 2-3, Vuckovic 1-3, Gari 1-3), Notre Dame 11-26 (Cable 5-9, Mi. Mabrey 3-8, Ma. Mabrey 2-4, Ogunbowale 1-4, Allen 0-1). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Georgia Tech 30 (Whiteside 9), Notre Dame 32 (Westbeld 5). Assists-Georgia Tech 12 (Cryor 3), Notre Dame 19 (Allen 6). Total Fouls-Georgia Tech 19, NotreDame 14. A-9,149.