With only two games separating the top nine teams in the ACC standings, every league game becomes even more important.
That showed on Thursday night.
Notre Dame's home victory over the Duke kept the Irish (19-3, 7-1) in second place in the ACC and created a little separation from the Blue Devils (17-4, 5-3). Notre Dame is one of just two one-loss teams in the ACC, now trailing Florida State (20-2, 8-1) by a half game.
Brianna Turner recorded her sixth double-double of the season with a 25-point, 12-rebound effort. And, despite only scoring two points, Lindsay Allen tied her career high for assists with 12. Sophomores Marina Mabrey, who was out with the flu just the day before, and Arike Ogunbowale each added nine points. Kathryn Westbeld, who returned to the lineup after battling an ankle injury, chipped in six points and seven rebounds.
Duke's Lexie Brown, the reigning ACC Player of the Week, totaled 22 points in 40 minutes of action. Leaonna Odom and Rebecca Greenwell were the Blue Devils' other double-digit scorers with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
The visitors were red-hot from the floor to start, with Brown's 12 points putting Duke up 24-18 after the first period. Notre Dame clamped down defensively in the second and managed to pull even. With 20 seconds remaining in the period, the Blue Devils were whistled for a flagrant foul and Turner converted two free throws for a 35-35 tie at halftime.
From there Notre Dame continued to step up its defensive pressure and, in particular, limited Brown's touches. With 4:42 left in the third quarter, Erin Boley hit a jumper to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game. The Irish eventually built that advantage to 11 points with about three minutes to go in the fourth.
But Duke did not go away quietly. Its physical play frustrated the Irish into a couple of turnovers, and Duke closed the gap to four points.
But two big offensive rebounds by Westbeld in the waning minutes, and 18 total for the game, secured the victory.
“A Herculean effort,” said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw paised of Westbeld. “She played through a lot of pain. Those (rebounds) are momentum killers for the other team. Every time you get an offensive rebound, they get deflated. And then you get another one and they get a little more (deflated). And then you score on it. I think that was such a big turn-around.”
Notre Dame will host Virginia at home in a nationally-televised broadcast at noon on Jan. 29.