Late last week Muffet McGraw admitted that Notre Dame had grown road weary. A stretch of 10 games away from Purcell Pavilion during a 12-game run had the Irish lagging. Then McGraw demanded her squad dig deep to get through this.
On Sunday, the Irish responded.
Instead of limping to the finish line, No 6 Notre Dame (18-3, 6-1) had a strong performance in the last three periods paced by Brianna Turner’s double-double, a 24-point, 12-rebound effort to go with six blocks. Lindsay Allen added just five points but also logged 11 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Sophomores Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, while rookie Jackie Young (10) hit double figures for the third time in four games. Kathryn Westbeld was out for the second straight game with an ankle injury.
For the Tar Heels (12-8, 1-6), four players were averaging double digits but only two – Paris Kea and Stephanie Watts – surpassed those marks with 21 and 14 points, respectively. North Carolina was also short-handed, playing without the services of fifth-year senior Hillary Fuller, a starter in the first 19 games of the season.
Behind the 15 first-quarter points of Kea, North Carolina kept the contest close and even led the Irish on a couple of occasions. Notre Dame held a 24-21 advantage after the first 10 minutes and then went to work. It stepped up its defensive pressure and mixed man-to-man with zone to limit the Tar Heels to just six second-period points.
Notre Dame led 47-27 at the half, its highest-scoring first half on the road this season.
It was more of the same for the final 20 minutes, with a few minor changes.
Notre Dame’s Mychal Johnson started the game in place of the injured Westbeld, but Ali Patberg got the nod to start the third period. And, while the Irish kept Kea in check for the remainder of the game, Watts had a huge second half for North Carolina. She scored all but one of her 21 points in the third quarter until a knee injury kept out for the final period.
The victory was the 750th in McGraw’s 30 years at the helm on the Irish sideline, putting her in an elite group of head coaches who have won 750 games at one school. The other six coaches to accomplish the feat were Pat Summitt (Tennessee), Tara VanDerveer (Stanford), Jody Conradt (Texas), Geno Auriemma (UConn), Robin Selvig (Montana) and Andy Landers (Georgia).
“I was really, really pleased with the win and the way we played and the way we managed to keep our lead and extend the lead,” McGraw stated. “The second quarter was really good for us. We did a good job of getting to the ball, and I was really pleased with how we executed.”
The Irish return home for a Jan. 26 meeting with 15th-ranked Duke.