Miami had upset on the mind when it took the court against Notre Dame on Saturday, looking to advance to its first ACC Tournament final and get off the NCAA Tournament-hosting bubble. But the Irish, which fell behind in the first half, remained calm and steady and eventually took the wind out of the Hurricanes’ sail.
Notre Dame's quartet of Brianna Turner (17 points), Madison Cable (14), Lindsay Allen (14) and Kathryn Westbeld (10) was too much for Miami to handle. Irish efficiency at the foul line made a mark too, where Notre Dame shot 28 free throws opposed to the Hurricanes' nine.
The Irish improved to 30-1 on the season and 56-1 in ACC games since joining the conference three years ago.
Notre Dame will face Syracuse on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., for the ACC Tournament title.
“I thought Miami played a great first half, and our defense was poor early,” said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw. “But I thought offensively we did a lot of good things. Lindsay had that 6-0 run to really give us a cushion on the lead. Everybody contributed. Madison always makes a big shot at some point. We were able to go inside to Brianna. So we had some success there.”
Miami came out shooting with nothing to lose, with its first five buckets coming from behind the arc. Notre Dame kept it close but could never breakaway and, with 3:13 left in the first quarter, Cable picked up her second foul. She pleaded with McGraw to stay in the game, before being ushered to the bench. But it was foul trouble that hampered the Hurricanes early. Less than a minute into the second quarter, five of their players had two fouls, including three front line players.
That meant it was time for Turner to go to work, connecting on more free throws (7) than she did baskets (5).
Still, three more treys in the first half kept Miami within one, 39-38, at intermission.
“We tried to zone them (in the first quarter), but they shot us out of it,” McGraw explained. “We tried a couple of different things and they shot us out of all of them. Then we went man-to-man in the third quarter, and I think that was probably our best defense of the day.”
The Hurricanes actually pulled ahead by three in the third quarter but then Allen went on the 6-0 scoring run of her own. Despite an uncharacteristic 1-for-5 shooting for the game, Irish freshman Arike Ogunbowale made her lone bucket as the third quarter expired and Notre Dame held a 59-51 advantage. Miami would never get any closer. Shortly thereafter, in typical fashion, Cable connected on a basket and then grabbed a steal for another two to give Notre Dame its first double-digit lead. Allen picked up her fourth foul with 8:12 left in the fourth and, with her on the bench, the Hurricanes tried to pressure Notre Dame’s other guards.
But the Irish never crumbled.
“I wish I wasn’t coaching against such a great coach on the other end because, boy, can she run a play for a player to score when they need it and it’s unbelievable,” said Miami head coach Katie Meier. “Any time we took the lead or they were on the ropes, they hit a big shot and it was a different kid each time.”
Facing a third game in three days, McGraw was confident early exits by the Irish starters during the quarterfinal rout of Duke and subbing frequently against Miami will help alleviate any possible fatigue problems. Regardless, Notre Dame is within reach of the second of its three goals this season.
“(We want to win the) ACC Tournament,” McGraw stated. “That’s our goal. We’re here. One more game.”