Feb. 26, 2017
By Leigh Torbin
With a championship on the line, the No. 5/4 Notre Dame women's basketball team played like champions on Sunday afternoon, downing No. 8/11 Florida State, 79-61, to claim its fourth outright ACC championship in four seasons as a member of the elite league.
Undefeated at home in all of its 32 all-time ACC league contests, the Irish led from wire-to-wire today, fueled by a 24-point, five-block game from Brianna Turner. Arike Ogunbowale scored 19, Kathryn Westbeld scored 14 and Lindsay Allen assisted on nine buckets, matching the school's 30-year old career record with 778.
"That was probably the best game we've played all year," Irish Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw said. "Offensively, we shot the ball consistently well in every quarter. Defensively, our zone was very good...we played a very intelligent game."
Including its final two seasons in the BIG EAST Conference, the Irish have now won six consecutive outright regular season conference championships, the only team in the nation which can make this claim. Now, the Irish head to the ACC Tournament as the top seed aiming to join Duke (2001-04) as the only teams to ever win the outright ACC regular season title and tournament title four years in a row.
While Notre Dame is exactly where it expected to be this fall, the team was knocked down along the way, losing its preseason No. 1 ranking in a December loss to UConn, losing its ACC opener (Dec. 29 at NC State) and nearly falling out of the top 10 for the first time in six years after a January upset loss at Tennessee. The Irish rose up and won each of their final 15 league games to reclaim the top rung on the conference ladder and position to earn a No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Championship.
"We were anointed early on and didn't handle it very well," McGraw said. "Then, we were able to earn our way back. I think that says a lot for this team and what they've overcome to get there. We worried about our toughness when we were taking our lumps early and I think they really showed us a lot the way they came out together today and played so hard.
"I love where we're at right now. I think we're exactly where we should be right now."
Turning The Page
Ballots for ACC awards are due on Monday morning and Brianna Turner couldn't have made a much better statement for the league's player of the year and defensive player of the year honors than she did on Sunday afternoon. Turner led all scorers with 24 points, connecting on 11-of-15 from the floor (73.3%). She had six rebounds and five blocked shots while also helping hold Florida State's Shakayla Thomas to just 10 points.
It was Turner's fifth 20-plus point game in the last 10 games, including her career-high 31 point effort on Feb. 19 at No. 21 Syracuse. Turner blocked a total of 12 shots this week as her five today join her seven blocks on Thursday night against Boston College.
Her first blocked shot was the milestone 250th of her Irish career. She now has 254, ranking second in Notre Dame history behind only Ruth Riley (370) and 11th in ACC history. With 77 blocks so far this year, Turner stands ninth on the Irish single-season chart, a list headed by Riley's 113 in 2000-01.
At the other end, she moved past Shari Matvey for 19th place on the Irish career scoring chart with 1,383 career points. She also improved her career field goal percentage to .621, ranking second in school history and fourth in ACC lore. She is one of just two players nationally this season in the top 20 for both field goal percentage and blocked shots.
"I think it's unusual to find great player who is such a presence at both ends of the floor," McGraw said. "She probably takes as much pride in the defense as she does in her offense -- probably more. It's great for us to have her on our side."
Another Sunday Sellout
Notre Dame consistently enjoys one of the country's best home court advantages as only Gonzaga operates at a higher percent of capacity than Notre Dame's 91-percent mark at 9,149-seat Purcell Pavilion.
For the third straight home Sunday matinee, the capacity percentage was 100 as the Irish sold out today's game with the Seminoles. Notre Dame also sold out its Sunday matinees against Georgia Tech (Feb. 12) and Virginia (Jan. 29). It is the fourth sellout this year alongside the Dec. 7 UConn game.
Today's game is the 52nd sellout in Irish history with 46 of them coming since 2009-10.
Allen Ties Assist Record
Lindsay Allen added nine more assists today to her career totals, leaving her with 778 tying Mary Gavin's school career record which has stood for 30 years. Allen is also on the cusp of breaking the ACC record for career assists as she would need eight more to surpass Sharnee Zoll of Virginia who had 785 from 2004-08. Additionally, Allen now has 219 assists on the season, passing Gavin for fifth place on the Irish seasonal chart.
After the game, Allen was asked on live national television by ESPN's Debbie Antonelli what tying Gavin's school career record meant to her. Allen's response was typical of her humble self.
"It means I have a bunch of great teammates who can shoot the ball," she said.
The Irish have the top seed for the ACC Tournament and a coveted double-bye. Notre Dame will open play in Friday's quarterfinals against the winner of Thursday's matchup between Virginia and Wake Forest. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. on ACC Network affiliates.
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.