Notre Dame Captures ACC Tournament, 99-79, Vs. Louisville
It was a “big” win in more ways than one when No. 4 Notre Dame (30-3) defeated No. 3 Louisville (29-3), 99-79, on Sunday afternoon at Greensboro, N.C to capture the 2019 ACC Championship and ensure an eighth consecutive No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Notre Dame bigs with its Twin Tower tandem of Jessica Shepard (season high 30 points, 13 rebounds, four assists) and Brianna Turner (20 points, seven rebounds, three blocks), overpowered the smaller four-guard look of Louisville, which also lost top post player Sam Fuehring to a lower leg injury.
Shepard and Turner converted 22 of 29 field goals between them in the contest.
Meanwhile, ACC Tournament MVP and point guard Jackie Young (21 points, 10 rebounds), who plays much bigger than her 6-foot size, drove aggressively into the lane repeatedly and set the tone early for Notre Dame’s inside dominance. This victory marked the 8th time this season Shepard and Young posted double-doubles in the same game, with Shepard putting up the 54th of her career.
The inside numbers tell the story:
• The Fighting Irish out-scored Louisville by an astounding 72-40 in the paint.
• Notre Dame crushed the Cardinals on the offensive glass with 23 offensive rebounds. In the first half alone it was 11-0.
• The dominance on the boards resulted in a 28-17 Irish advantage in second-chance points.
All five Irish starters tallied in double-figures again, with Shepard joining Young on the first-team All-Tournament Team.
“Today you saw [the guards] do a great job of putting the ball inside, which is what the coaches wanted,” Shepard told ESPN after the game. “That’s just a credit to my teammates. …The biggest strength of us is our versatility on offense. We have five people who can score 30 any game, so that just talks about my teammates.”
Louisville found itself shorthanded minus Fuehring, who already had suffered a hairline fracture in her nose the previous day, and then was injured in the second quarter versus the Irish. The Cardinals also were minus starting guard Arica Carter because of an injury.
Even with Fuehring on the floor in the first quarter, though, Notre Dame asserted immediate inside dominance while building a 27-17 lead at the end of the first 10-minute segment. The Irish attempted only one three-pointer during that stretch, which missed, and all 12 baskets in 21 attempts were either lay-ups in transition or drives to the basket in the quarter-court offense.
Louisville gamely battled throughout the first half, pulling to within 45-39 at one point, but the Irish still led 48-39 at the intermission while out-rebounding the Cardinals 24-11 and doubling their points in the point (36-18).
Notre Dame gradually pulled away in the third quarter when it outscored the Cardinals 25-17 (with a 22-5 lead in offensive rebounds at one point) and were ahead 99-72 before Louisville scored the final seven points.
Selection Monday will be March 18, with the Irish hosting the first two games in what is expected to be the Chicago Regional.
1. Passing Fancy
Shepard joined Young, Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale in the 100-assist club this season when she tipped a pass from Young to Shepard for a layup in the third quarter. It is a testament to the ball movement and unselfishness of this team. Furthermore it shows how even when All-American Ogunbowale goes 5 of 18 from the field in the semifinal and 5 of 19 in the final, the Irish can still maintain a 96-point scoring average (never less than 89) while shooting at a 54-percent clip the past nine games.
2. Another Dimension?
Throughout her career, three-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year Turner has not only been a shot-blocking force but peerless nationally among post players when it comes to sprinting down the floor. That has resulted in hundreds of baskets on layups off transition or on alley-oop passes, at which she also is among the best.
She has never quite displayed a back-to-the-basket game or consistent jumper, but against the Cardinals she knocked down four short six-to-eight foot shots with aplomb. She also was 8 of 8 the last two games from the foul line (10 of 11 overall in the tourney) where she had been about a 61-percent shooter in her career. If that type of performance continues, stopping this offense will be virtually impossible.
3. Three Heads, One Crown
With all respect to Oregon, Mississippi State, Louisville and many others … the title this season will go again to one of the three teams that won six of the last seven championships: UConn, Baylor or the Irish. South Carolina was the exception in 2017. The Bears and Huskies are the only two teams, in my humble opinion, that could vanquish the Irish. UConn already did earlier this year, while Baylor has its own Twin Towers in 6-7 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox who lead the most dominant defense in the nation.