With 7:18 left in the third quarter, a lay-up by Duke’s Rebecca Greenwell opened a 10-0 second half run by the Blue Devils and pulled them within 43-41 of Notre Dame. Time out, Fighting Irish.
From there, poise and precise execution by Notre Dame on both ends of the floor took it from treading water to wreaking an overwhelming tsunami on No. 13 Duke (27-5) in what would be an 84-61 victory.
Now 30-3, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press and peaking at the right time with their 14th straight conquest, head coach Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish joined the 2001-04 Blue Devils as the only programs to capture four consecutive regular season crowns and four straight ACC Tournament championships.
Led by ACC Tournament MVP and senior point guard Lindsay Allen’s single game tourney record 13 assists, 11 points, seven rebounds and five steals, five Notre Dame players scored in double figures against a Duke defense that entering the weekend was No. 1 in the ACC (54.7 points per game) and No. 3 nationally among Power 5 teams.
Already the all-time Notre Dame and ACC career assists leader, Allen’s 13 assists gave her 33 in the tournament to break the previous standard of 30 set way back in 1980, and eclipsed the Irish single season mark of 251 set by assistant coach Niele Ivey, the point guard for the 2001 national champs.
The turning point occurred at the aforementioned 43-41 spot that prompted the time out. In the next 4:08 the Irish detonated on a 14-0 run that began with a three-pointer out of the time out by sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale, who finished with a game high 21 points, highlighted by 5-of-9 beyond the arc.
The Irish then found junior forward Brianna Turner (18 points, 6-of-7 from the field and foul line) twice in a row in the low post for scores, Allen converted a put-back, sophomore Marina Mabrey (13 points) knocked down a jumper and freshman Erin Boley — 6-of-8 shooting from the field for 14 points — converted a trey to suddenly make it 57-41 and leave Duke reeling.
Another Boley three made it 63-43 to cap a 20-2 run, and ultimately the shell-shocked Blue Devils would lose their 13th straight to Notre Dame while seeing their 10-game winning streak (since the 62-58 loss on Jan. 26 at Notre Dame) snapped.
Of the 31 baskets Notre Dame recorded, 24 came on assists, including four by junior forward Kathryn Westbeld, whose high-post passing continues to be a major factor in the team's much improved ball movement. The Irish shot 51.7 percent from the field (31-of-60), 50 percent from three (11-of-22) and 84.6 percent from the foul line (11-of-13).
1. UConn Of The ACC — The Connecticut dynasty and the 106 straight wins it has posted has sadly somewhat overshadowed the dominance Notre Dame also has enjoyed with a remarkable 74-2 record (62-2 regular season, 12-0 in tournament) in the ACC — after also winning the Big East outright versus UConn in 2013.
To register 13 straight wins against basketball blue blood Duke, 11 in a row versus Louisville (national runner-up in 2009 and 2013) and 18 against Syracuse (last year’s national runner-up) is something that can be easily taken for granted and not fully appreciated until years down the line — sort of like defeating USC in football 11 straight years from 1983-93.
2. The Turner Effect — Duke finished the game shooting only 36.4 percent from the field (20-of-55), and it missed a number of looks inside. What sometimes gets underestimated is The Turner Effect that does not show individually on the stat sheet. Yes, the Blue Devils did miss what looked like some “bunnies,” but do not overlook their cognizance of two-time ACC Defensive Player of The Year Brianna Turner’s presence. This can often subconsciously lead to hurried or worried shots because of her range and skills to cover so much ground. Turner is credited with three blocked shots — as was Mabrey — but it’s the other errant ones she forces that are just as valuable, if not more so.
3. Team Defense — This area has been blasted by McGraw on several occasions this season, but it quietly continues to be an upgrade collectively the past two weeks. Except for a few lapses which are bound to occur, Ogunbowale and freshman Jackie Young both did solid individual work on Duke star Lexie Brown, who after tallying 16 points in the first half failed to score in the second while going 0-of-2 from the floor.
Notre Dame’s unselfish passing, balance and shooting is generally the headline act, but the team defense has gradually become more constricting — and what has helped make it Final Four timber again.
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