There’s always some concern about rust after a two-week break.
But not for No. 1 Notre Dame on Saturday during its opening round win of the NCAA Tournament against No. 16 North Carolina A&T inside Purcell Pavilion. The Irish jumped to a 7-0 lead and never looked back, paced by Brianna Turner (16 points), Madison Cable (15), Marina Mabrey (13), Kathryn Westbeld (12), Mychal Johnson (12) and Arike Ogunbowale (11).
Notre Dame (32-1) will face 9th-seeded Indiana, a 62-58 winner over No. 8-seed Georgia, on Monday for a chance to move on to the Sweet 16 in Lexington, Ky.
“I thought we played a great three quarters,” said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw. “Twenty assists (on 21 baskets) and six turnovers at halftime … I thought we really came out well. The starters were really well prepared, and we shot the ball well.”
“I thought Notre Dame dominated the game from beginning to end,” added Aggies head coach Tarrell Robinson. “They display some of the best selfless basketball that I have seen…they had 20 assists at the half. That’s how I want our program and our young women to play.”
The Irish connected on 6-of-12 three-pointers, but it was in the paint where they dominated. Notre Dame outscored the Aggies 52-18 down low, and held A&T’s leading scorer, center Aprill McRae, to 10 points and seven rebounds. Kala Green, who missed her first 10 shots, paced the Aggies with 12 points. Dana Brown chipped in another 11.
“The 52 (points in the paint) for Notre Dame doesn’t surprise me, but the 18 (points in the paint) for us does,” Robinson said. “They did a great job with everything, and it started with Aprill McRae. They doubled her, and I don’t think she was getting the ball where it needed to go. They sped us up, and we expected that. We had some shots we didn’t make, and we made some bad decisions as well.”
Notre Dame maintained a 12-point working margin for most of the first half until posting a 19-3 run late in the second quarter that them ahead 52-24 at the half. It was more of the same following the break, and Notre Dame’s lead swelled to 41 points through three quarters.
Then, with four starters on the bench, the Irish got sloppy with the ball during a couple of stretches. But the Aggies could never trim the lead to less than 30 points.
“I think it was a couple of things,” said McGraw. “One, Lindsay Allen was on the bench, and I thought we were just lackadaisical. I didn’t think we were aggressive coming to the ball, and I didn’t think we were finding the open player. (But) really happy with everything in the first three quarters.”