Junior Brianna Turner is one of the elite athletes in women’s basketball, but she hasn’t always been the top finisher on offense in the low post.
In No.6/9 Notre Dame’s 77-55 win at North Carolina on Sunday afternoon, she asserted her presence on both ends with 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
The Fighting Irish are now 18-3, including 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Tar Heels drop to 12-8 overall and 1-6 in the league.
Minus classmate Kathryn Westbeld, who did not make the trip because of an ankle injury suffered last Wednesday, Turner was dominant against a smaller but quick Tar Heels lineup.
“Awesome … maybe the best game of the season,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw told ESPN of Turner after the game. “I love the way she’s driving the ball now. She was really working the offensive glass, scoring in a lot of different ways.
“She can do so much more than just get the lob, and she’s trying to show that now, so we’re trying to run different things for her.”
Notre Dame led only 24-21 at the end of the first quarter while North Carolina’s Paris Kea, who averages 14.0 points per game, was stellar with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor.
In the second quarter, though, the Irish may have played their best 10 minutes of the season offensively and defensively while outscoring North Carolina 23-6. Paris was held to six points after the first quarter while the Irish mixed man and zone on defense.
Shooting consistency was up and down, with Notre Dame converting 20 of 35 (57.1 percent) in the first half — including 5 of 9 (55.6 percent) from three-point range — but only 11 of 35 (31.4 percent) overall and 0 of 6 from long distance in the second. Nevertheless, McGraw is seeing incremental improvement.
“I feel like we’re back to getting some rhythm on the offense,” she said. “I think we’re back to getting our transition game going. Defensively, we did some pretty good things late in the game. … I feel a lot better about where we are right now.”
Sophomore guard Marina Mabrey has become more steady the past couple of weeks, finishing with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Senior Lindsay Allen played another strong floor game with 11 assists and only three turnovers, while sophomore Arike Ogunbowale and freshman Jackie Young added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
1. No Place Like Home — The game in Chapel Hill ended an unusual stretch of 10 of the last 12 games on the road for the Irish. Beginning this Thursday against No. 15 Duke, Notre Dame will finish with six of its last nine at home — including tilts against No. 9 Louisville Feb. 6 and No. 7 Florida State in the Feb. 26 regular-season finale. Wins there and capturing the ACC regular season and tournament titles for a fourth straight year would put McGraw’s squad in the No. 1 seed conversation again, with Connecticut, Baylor and the South Carolina/Mississippi State winner on Monday night the best bets for the first three.
2. Ali, Ali, Ali … — Sophomore Ali Patberg has begun to find her stride in the last two games while playing 20 minutes apiece against both Boston College and North Carolina. Overcoming a litany of health setbacks, Patberg did not attempt a field goal in her first 62 minutes of college action. But at Boston College she was 2 of 3 and scored six points, and then at North Carolina she was 3 of 5, highlighted by two jumpers. She also had only one turnover in those 40 minutes of action.
“Having two point guards on the floor has been really good for us,” McGraw said of playing Allen and Patberg together more often.
3. Bench Marks — In addition to Patberg, freshmen Young (10 points) and Erin Boley (eight points) are fortifying the bench strength more consistently. (All three were national players of the year by one outlet as high school seniors.) Young was regularly put on Kea in man-to-man defense after the latter’s early outburst, and Boley — who included a drive and hop to complement her two treys — had maybe her best game, per McGraw, in terms of activeness underneath and on defense.
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