Upset-minded Syracuse wanted its first conference championship in 31 years, and it was confident it could get that job done.
But at the end of the day, the inside-outside shooting of Notre Dame proved to be too much for the Orange inside the Greensboro Coliseum. Behind the 18-point, 11-rebound effort of Irish sophomore Brianna Turner and senior Madison Cable’s 18 points on a career-high six three-pointers, No. 2 Notre Dame (31-1) won its third straight league crown. The Irish became the first ACC team to three-peat since North Carolina in 2006-08.
“I am so proud of this team, what they’ve accomplished and what we’ve be able to do this year,” said head coach Muffet McGraw. “We’ve faced some adversity early, and we just kept moving forward. We found a way to win. We’ve got so many different people that have contributed. (Cable, Turner and Lindsay Allen) have done the lion’s share of a lot of the big games, but we’ve had so many people off the bench contribute.
“But I think a lot of the credit goes to the senior class. This class has really reinforced our culture. They’ve been tremendous leaders, and they set the tone. They’re incredibly unselfish, great teammates, great team players, and they have really, really helped our chemistry. It’s the best it’s ever been. It’s a great group to be around. I love working with them. They come in ready every single day, and I’m just so proud of them right now.”
Syracuse started in a 2-3 zone, but Notre Dame found open pockets. The Irish connected on several mid-range jumpers, including four by sophomore Kathryn Westbeld, who was the only other Irish double-digit scorer with 10. With just over four minutes left in the first quarter, tournament MVP Cable connected on the first of her record-setting treys while also putting her over the 1,000-point mark for her collegiate career. At the end of the first 10 minutes, the Irish owned a 22-14 advantage, and had seven assists on nine buckets.
Syracuse tried to ratchet up the pressure from there, but Allen controlled the point for Notre Dame. Paired with senior Hannah Huffman off the bench, the Irish broke that press to build a 33-20 lead at the half.
“Lindsay Allen having one turnover … I think that was the key (to breaking the press),” McGraw said. “She had the ball in her hands the majority of the time, and Hannah Huffman as the in-bounder (brought) the ball up. I thought those two did a great job of handling the press, and it is one of the toughest presses in the country.”
The second half proved to be a continuation of the first. The Irish built up the advantage to 18 and, despite missing 10 consecutive shots, still managed to weather the Orange’s attack behind the double-digit scoring efforts of Alexis Peterson (19 points), Briana Day (17) and Cornelia Fondren (10).
“Got to give Notre Dame a lot of credit,” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “They played a really tough basketball game. They did what they had to do to win. They threw the ball inside to Turner. She was tremendous today. And I thought our kids did everything we had to do to keep us in the game, to keep us in arm’s distance of touching them and winning the game.
“But down the stretch you’ve got to make a couple of plays and we didn’t. That’s what it’s about.”
In addition to MVP honors, Cable was named to the first team along with Turner and Allen. The Irish will be a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and host first- and second-round games to begin their quest for a national championship – its final goal of the season.
“It’s obviously great, and I don’t think that many people have done it,” Cable said of the squad’s three consecutive league titles. “But I think this year we’re looking to take it a step further and maybe win the next tournament.”