Jan. 12, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The No. 6 Notre Dame women's basketball team has been one of the top shooting teams in the nation this winter, ranking fifth nationally in field goal percentage (49.2%) and 11th in 3-point field goal percentage (38.9%). Playing a rare home game at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, the Irish (16-2, 4-1 ACC) eclipsed those marks and shot a lofty 90% (27-for-30) from the foul line in an 86-54 win over Pittsburgh (10-7, 1-3 ACC) on Thursday night.
Arike Ogunbowale led all scorers with 19 points, matching her career-high with five 3-pointers. Freshman Jackie Young scored 15 points in the second-highest showing of her young collegiate career, including a 7-for-7 mark at the charity stripe, to go with a game-high eight rebounds. Kristina Nelson scored a career-high 13 points off of the bench while Brianna Turner scored 11 points, nine of them in a scintillating first quarter where she was 3-for-3 from both the field and the foul line.
Notre Dame shot an even 50% from the floor (26-for-52) and 43.8% from downtown (7-for-16) on the night. The Irish also dominated on the glass, out-rebounding Pitt, 41-19. Notre Dame grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to just 13 defensive rebounds for the Panthers, leading to a 15-2 discrepancy in second-chance points in favor of the Irish.
Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw credited the familiarity with their home court with the performance, even if it is just the second time the Irish have played on it in the past nine games - part of a 12-game stretch which features 10 road games.
"(The higher score) is the difference between being at home and being on the road," she said. "We shoot the ball a lot better at home - I think everybody does. On the road, our defense has been spectacular so that's really helped us.
"I think we're shooting the ball really well. I think we're in a pretty good place offensively, and defensively as well. I see a lot of progress. I see a lot of good things."
Ogunbowale may enjoy being at home more than any other player on the Irish roster. In nine home games, she averages 18.3 points per game. In nine road and neutral site games, Ogunbowale averages just 11.9 points per game. She helped blow the game open by hitting back-to-back threes to put Notre Dame on top 21-9 and force a Pitt timeout with 7:36 left in the second quarter. The sharp-shooting came during a 20-4 run by the Irish that propelled the team onward to victory.
Play of the Day
If the 8,137 fans had left Purcell Pavilion after just one basket, they would have gone home entertained. Notre Dame wasted little time demonstrating its advantage in athleticism in taking a mere 2-0 lead. Pitt's Aysia Bugg attempted to lob an entry pass to a teammate from the top of the key. The ball indeed went high but not so high that the long-armed and nimble Brianna Turner couldn't get a hand on it. Arike Ogunbowale came away with the deflection and the two rushed down court in transition.
Ogunbowale pulled up near the top of the key and threw up a lob pass of her own. This one sailed over the Panther defender and fell precisely into the hands of a driving and leaping Turner who calmly dropped it into the bucket, making an alley-oop look effortless.
The steal was one of three on the night for Turner, a single steal off of her career high of four, recently set on Jan. 2 at Georgia Tech.
Patberg Breaks Into Scoring Column
Sophomore Ali Patberg got a proverbial monkey off of her back on Thursday night as she finally scored her first collegiate points. Patberg had appeared in eight games prior to tonight's for a total of 48 minutes but had yet to attempt a field goal while missing her only two free throws, coming on Sunday afternoon at Miami. Patberg was fouled by Alayna Gribble with 1:19 left to play before halftime and went to the line for two shots.
Patberg swished her first free throw, leading Irish radio voice Bob Nagle to add that Patberg was now just "999 points away from 1,000." Patberg would also make her second free throw.
Allen Moves To Number Two; Turner Claims 13th
Senior captain Lindsay Allen has been enrolled at Notre Dame for 130 women's basketball games. She has started every single one of them. With her 130th career start tonight, she surpassed the 129 of Alicia Ratay (1999-2003) for second in school history behind only the 144 of Skylar Diggins from 2009-13. Allen's 130 consecutive starts is by far a school record, standing nearly an entire season ahead of the 97 consecutive starts made by Jacqueline Batteast from 2002-05. Neither the ACC nor the NCAA lists a record for the most career games started.
Brianna Turner blocked two Pitt shots tonight. Those swats give her 213 career blocked shots, moving her into 13th place in ACC history as she surpassed the 212 by Duke's Sarah Sullivan from 1987-91.
Big Macs Denied
A marketing promotion is successful when the fans are entirely aware of it. A marketing promotion takes another step on the ladder of success when the home team is aware of what is happening even within the natural flow of a game. Notre Dame's Big Mac promotion may have hit a zenith worthy of a NACMA award on Thursday night when even the opposing team was so aware of it that their game strategies were altered.
For the uninitiated, in a long-standing promotion, when the Irish score 88 points at home, all fans in attendance receive a coupon for a free McDonald's Big Mac. The popular promotion often has Notre Dame's large crowds remaining in their seats to the end of even the most lopsided games and a thunderous roar inevitably accompanies the "Big Mac Basket" when the home team hits 88.
Kristina Nelson hit a free throw with 1:12 to play, putting the Irish up by 33 points at 84-51. Rather than polite applause, it was greeted with significant cheering. The game was essentially over, but the Big Mac chase was on and the Panthers knew it well. In their last visit to Notre Dame, the Panthers stopped the Irish painfully short of providing two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onion on a sesame seed bun to the fans in an 87-59 contest. Pitt head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio called for a stall, ratcheting up the intensity in the waning moments of a lopsided affair and helping create one of the game's more entertaining stretches of play.
Notre Dame was not content to let the clock run out. Jackie Young stole the ball from Brandi Harvey-Carr and sank two free throws with 38 seconds left to make it an 86-51 game. Pitt milked the shot clock before Alayna Gribble hit a three to make it 86-54 with nine seconds left, but it also left the Irish with one last chance to score. In any other situation, the clock would be "dribbled out" but Notre Dame didn't want to let its zealous fans go unrewarded and charged down the court. Kristina Nelson drove the lane and missed a layup. Young got the offensive rebound, but missed the put back at the buzzer and the coupons were put away for another night.
"I was really happy with almost everything that happened today except not getting the Big Mac," McGraw said to begin her opening statement at the postgame press conference. "That was very disappointing for us at the end of the game."
"I apologize to the fans, but no Big Macs tonight," McConnell-Serio said of her late-game tactics afterwards.
Notre Dame heads back on the road for a "Big Monday" showdown at Tennessee in the We Back Pat game, a tribute to late Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt. ESPN2 will showcase the game nationally at 7 p.m. with Dave O'Brien, Doris Burke and Kara Lawson on the call.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame's women's basketball and men's golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.