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Irish overcome slow start in road win

Virginia Tech started the season 15-0 but has lost six of seven since, with Notre Dame adding to that skid Thursday night during a 79-56 victory in Blacksburg.

With the regular season grinding to an end, the 7th-ranked Irish (21-3, 9-1) found themselves in the same position many teams do at this time of the year, battling ailments and injuries. Defensive specialist Mychal Johnson remains sidelined with a shoulder injury. Forwards Kristina Nelson and Kathryn Westbeld both have ankle injuries.

Even Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was under the weather with a cold.

And, McGraw noted prior to the tip-off, the squad didn't have a good practice before leaving South Bend or a good shoot-around once arriving in Virginia Tech for Thursday night’s game. All possible to contributors to Notre Dame's slow start. But once the Irish settled in, the Hokies (16-6, 3-6) were played off the court as Notre Dame rolled to a 79-56 win.

Notre Dame sophomore Arike Ogunbowale paced all scorers with 16 points and recorded the first double-double of her career after also hauling in 10 rebounds. She capped off the night by dishing out a career-high six assists. The injured Westbeld added 15 points and seven boards while Marina Mabrey and Brianna Turner each chipped in 13.

For the Hokies, Chanette Hicks scored 14 while the squad’s only other double-digit scorer, Regan Magarity, had 13 points to go with 10 rebounds.

Virginia Tech held the lead for a little more than half of the first period, due in part to five Irish turnovers and some cold shooting. Then Westbeld checked in. A quick 5-0 run followed, as one of Ogunbowale’s assists got it started and a Westbeld three-point play finished it.

The Irish never trailed again.

Turner capped the first quarter with another old fashioned three-point play to give Notre Dame a 19-11 lead. But the Hokies continued to hang around and closed the gap to 34-29 at the half.

Westbeld started the third period instead of freshman Erin Boley, and the Irish quickly began to increase their advantage. Turnovers around the basket in the first half turned into scoring opportunities in the second as Notre Dame built a 61-46 lead after three periods.

It was more of the same in the final 10 minutes as the lead swelled to 22 points. The Hokies hoisted up 24 three-point attempts but only connected on seven, and the Irish owned a 40-30 cushion on the glass. Notre Dame also won points in the paint, 42-20.

In the end, Virginia Tech couldn't overcome the Irish at either end. 

"Arike was awesome," praised Notre Dame associate coach Beth Cunningham. "We know she can score but two areas that we've wanted her to improve was being a constant presence on the boards and getting the ball to her teammates when she sucks in defenses. She did all of that tonight. And Kat showed a lot of toughness. She's been very limited in practice, but she's stepping in and playing huge minutes for us."

Notre Dame will have another national audience on Feb. 6 for its ESPN2 Big Monday matchup against No. 9 Louisville at home.

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