No. 4 Notre Dame Advances To ACC Championship Game
For the sixth time in six years, Notre Dame (29-3) advanced to the ACC Championship game following a 91-66 victory versus No. 18 Syracuse (24-8) in the semifinals Saturday held in Greensboro. It will face the winner of the Louisville-North Carolina State game Sunday at noon, telecast on ESPN2.
All five Fighting Irish starters achieved double-figure scoring again, led by junior guard Jackie Young (18 points, 13 rebounds, five assists) and senior forward Jessica Shepard (16 points, 12 rebounds), while senior guard Marina Mabrey’s four three-pointers set a new career standard at the school.
After converting an ACC Tournament record 14 threes in yesterday’s win versus No. 16 Miami, Syracuse started hot behind the arc again by drilling 5 of 8 from that distance in the first quarter. An 8-0 run by the Orange early in the contest even forced Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw to uncharacteristically call a time out less than three minutes into the game after Syracuse knocked down two treys.
From there, the Irish finished the quarter on a 26-13 run for a 31-21 advantage at the end of the first 10-minute segment.
Both teams cooled down considerably in the second quarter, with the Fighting Irish tallying only 13 points while converting 6 of 18 (33.3 percent) from the floor. The good news was the Orange was 33.3 percent (11 of 33) the entire half, resulting in a 44-31 Notre Dame advantage at the intermission.
Similar to yesterday, Notre Dame then asserted control in the third quarter, first with a 9-2 run to open the half. Then after Syracuse narrowed its deficit to 55-44, a 12-foot jumper by Shepard and a three by Mabrey ignited a 13-0 run that sealed the outcome and helped make the score 70-46 after three quarters
The Irish extended the cushion to 87-56 — a higher margin than what Notre Dame defeated the Orange by in February (98-68) — before the final 25-point separation.
1. Marvelous Mabrey
Mabrey’s four three-pointers in the contest gave her 263 for her career, setting a new career standard that was held 16 years by Alicia Ratay (1999-03), a sophomore starter for the 2001 national champions. One of the fiercest competitors to don the Irish jersey, Mabrey's all-time percentage beyond the arc is .408, with a career high .442 this season (69 of 156). A .400 mark in that category is like batting .300 in Major League Baseball.
The most overshadowed three in school history is the one Mabrey converted in last year’s national title contest versus Mississippi State when the Irish trailed 58-53 with just under two minutes left. No score on that possession would likely have ended any national title dreams. It was fitting for one of the most overshadowed figures in program history — despite ranking in the top-10 in scoring with 1,839 points.
2. Good Omen
Senior Arike Ogunbowale, Mabrey’s roommate and the program's all-time scoring leader, tallied double-figure points for the 31st time in 32 games this season (she has reached at least 20 in 21 of them), but her 12 points came on only 5 of 18 shooting from the floor, and 0 of 5 beyond the arc. If one examines Ogunbowale’s history, though, this likely is a positive, especially prior to a championship-type environment. She has had a proclivity to bounce back strong, especially on the big stage, after a down shooting performance.
3. Planting The Seeds
A victory tomorrow by the Irish would clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth consecutive year, and probably to the Chicago Regional. In the second top-16 reveal by the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee on March 4, Notre Dame was slated to be shipped out to the Portland Regional while Louisville was put in Chicago.
If the Irish win the ACC Tournament, it would be difficult to fathom anyone else taking the Chicago slot, while Oregon, provided it wins the Pac 12, would stay in-state as the No. 1 seed in Portland.