Much-needed bench aid in the first half and a strong defensive effort in the second lifted No. 7 Notre Dame (15-2 overall, 3-1 in the ACC) over No. 14 Miami (13-3, 2-2) Sunday afternoon in Coral Gables.
Sophomore guard Marina Mabrey — with older sister and Notre Dame alumnus Michaela working for the Hurricanes’ staff — paced the Fighting Irish with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists, plus an intense tenacity on defense (including four steals). Junior forward Kathryn Westbeld added 14 points, five rebounds and three steals, while sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale contributed 11 points.
Although Notre Dame raced to a 7-0 lead and never trailed during the first half, it was treading water when senior point guard Lindsay Allen picked up her second foul with 1:08 left in the first quarter. The Irish led only 15-14 after the first quarter and maintained the one-point edge at halftime (30-29) while Allen sat the final 11:08. During her absence, Notre Dame committed seven turnovers over a five-and-a-half-minute stretch and already had 12 with 5:29 still left in the first half.
Sophomore Ali Patberg, who missed all of her freshman season with a torn ACL, had complication setbacks in August and battled walking pneumonia in December, was forced into her first major action at point guard after totaling only 37 minutes through the first seven games. She missed her two free-throw attempts (her only shots from anywhere this year), but provided some stability.
“I was elated with Ali Patberg," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw told ESPN afterwards. "I thought she really kind of righted the ship, she got us into some stuff, and Marina Mabrey made some big shots."
Freshman guard Jackie Young, who also has battled health setbacks (wrist and ankle injuries), likewise provided valuable help off the bench with nine points.
Miami took its lone lead of the contest (33-32) early in the second half, but an old-fashioned three by Ogunbowale on a basket-and-one regained the lead for good at 35-33. The Irish 2-3 zone defense, which McGraw has been playing more frequently of late, tightened the screws in the second half with its aggressiveness, and also was a positive in the game.
Two Irish surges gained separation in the game. The first was an 8-2 run that built a 51-42 lead with 2:24 left in the third. It began with a Mabrey three (46-40), a nice high-post pass from Brianna Turner to Allen on a back door cut that also led to a and-one foul shot (49-42), and Allen to Turner off the roll to make it 51-42.
Notre Dame then blew open the game at the start of the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to make it 63-46, including six straight points by Westbeld. It was here where the defense especially was effective, most notably while helping start the transition game.
“We really spread the zone,” McGraw said. “We had some pretty good ideas on the ball screens … We were active, we have a good communication, I was really pleased with the zone defense.”
Notre Dame’s next game is Thursday night when it hosts Pitt.
1. Turner Scoring Production — While All-American Turner can affect the game positively without scoring (she had 10 rebounds and forced many an errant shot), her production on offense continues to drop as teams jam her inside (and she is not a high-post player). She didn’t attempt her first shot until 2:35 was left in the first half, and her first basket came at 6:24 of the third quarter. The alley-oop has become her main scoring staple, but it also has resulted in too many turnovers (emphasis on "oops), with the Irish committing 21 at Miami.
Turner had 31 straight games with double-figure scoring, but she has had less than 10 in three of the last four, all on the road (seven in the loss at N.C. State and Miami, and nine at Georgia Tech on Jan. 2). It's a bit of a Catch-22 because the Irish want more production from Turner, yet seem to frequently force it into her too much, resulting in some stagnancy and miscues.
2. Point (Guard) Production — Minus Allen, the Irish used both junior Mychal Johnson and Mabrey at the point before giving the reins to Patberg for most of the second quarter. Patberg and Young both provided lifts off the bench, but a main reason former Stanford star point guard Lili Thompson is transferring in next year for her final season is to give excellent experience to the position after Allen graduates.
“Lindsay makes us a different team when she’s not on the floor,” McGraw told ESPN. “We’ve got to find a way to figure things out. I thought Jackie gave us some good minutes.”
3. Finishing The Job — Notre Dame now has won 156 consecutive games when leading at halftime. Doing it on the road like at ranked Miami while leading by only one at the intermission (30-29) makes it even more impressive.
• Talk about it inside Rockne's Roundtable
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Like us on Facebook