The Irish women’s basketball team surged to a strong regular season finish and a share of the ACC regular season title. After getting some revenge in Friday’s quarterfinal win over North Carolina, Notre Dame will take on Syracuse in a Saturday afternoon semifinal.

Wrapping Up the Regular Season

The Irish have been a strong offensive team all season, leading the nation in scoring at 88.4 points per game during the regular season. However, their pair of losses to North Carolina and Miami seemed to inspire them to take it to another level. Following the February 7th loss to Miami, the team was on fire for the last six games of the regular season. In those six games, they averaged 96.5 points per game. They won those games by an average of 32.5 points, with the closest game coming in a 23 point win over NC State. They connected on 53.8% of their field goals, 37.9% of their three-point attempts, and 79.4% of their free throws (up from season averages of 51.9%, 36.7%, and 73.2% respectively). They accomplished all of this in the way that all of the great Irish teams have – through sharing the ball, and a passing game that was a delight to watch. During this stretch, the team assisted on 67.2% of their baskets, up from the season average of 61.6%.

While all five starters were playing impressive basketball during this stretch, it’s worth noting that Jackie Young finished out the regular season with a triple-double against Virginia on senior night. It was her second of the season – a feat never accomplished by an Irish player before (Skylar Diggins had two triple-doubles, but not in the same season).

The strong finish was enough to take a share of the regular season ACC title as the team finished with the same conference record as Louisville. However, the Irish hold the top seed for the conference tournament thanks to their victory over the Cardinals earlier this season. This marks ND’s sixth straight ACC title, and their eighth straight regular season conference title going back to the last two years in the Big East.

ACC Quarterfinal: #4 ND vs. North Carolina

The ACC Tournament tipped off on Wednesday, and after a double-bye, the Irish faced a quarterfinal matchup against North Carolina on Friday. The team was looking for redemption after losing to the unranked Tar Heels in January. Both teams got off to a similar start, trading baskets and the lead early in the first quarter. This went on until the game was tied at 12 before ND went on a little run, including one of Arike Ogunbowale’s five made three-pointers for the game, to take a 19-12 lead into a timeout. The offensive plan seemed to be to get the ball inside to Turner, and it was a good strategy. Turner went 5/5 in the first quarter and made it look easy. The Irish led 25-16 after the first quarter.

The good passing and frequent assists carried over from the regular season into this game. As the second quarter got underway, Notre Dame grew their lead to 13 at 31-18. UNC responded with a run of their own to close the gap to 4 at 31-27 with just over five minutes to go. Ogunbowale was not going to let the lead slip away, though, and kicked off an impressive 8-0 run of her own with another three-pointer. Shepard collected a steal, Ogunbwale scored, then got back on defense to collect a steal of her own and make the subsequent basket and free throw. Despite the potentially disheartening nature of those few plays, North Carolina bounced back with a 6-0 run. At halftime, the Irish led 45-38.

The third quarter started much like the first, with a bit of back and forth play. Then the Irish started to pull away, doubling their halftime lead to 55-41 by a timeout at 7:23. The defense struggled somewhat, particularly against UNC’s Bailey, as the Tar Heels closed the gap back to 10. The Irish hung on to an 11-point lead at the end of the 3rd quarter, up 70-59.

Ogunbowale opened the fourth quarter with yet another three-pointer and the Irish started the quarter with a 5-0 run. The defense still wasn’t at its best, but Turner and Ogunbowale continued to have outstanding performances. Ogunbowale had another impressive stretch as the quarter progressed, with a three, a steal, and an assist to stretch the lead to 82-65. One of the game’s highlights (and likely the tournament’s highlights) came with just under five minutes remaining in the game, when Arike collected an assist plus a whole lot of style points on this pass to Shepard:

With the game out of hand, the Irish bench came in for the last few minutes, including both walk-ons. It was also good to see the return of freshman Jordan Nixon, who had missed the previous five games with a hamstring injury. She entered the game with 3:16 remaining and appeared healthy. Notre Dame completed the victory, defeating the Tar Heels 95-77 and advancing to the tournament semifinals. The Irish outrebounded North Carolina 37-25 and outscored them in the paint 54-30, both clear difference makers in this game.

We saw a little bit more time from Danielle Patterson (17 minutes) and Abby Prohaska (16 minutes) in this game. Hopefully they can be counted on for more quality minutes throughout the postseason. Ogunbowale finished the day with 28 points. Turner was close behind with a very efficient 24 points on 11/15 shooting and 10 rebounds. Not to be left out, Young flirted with another triple-double, ending the day with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. Marina Mabrey added one made three to her career tally today and now needs just three more to tie Alicia Ratay’s career record.

Burger Basket Leaderboard

When the team scores 88 points or more at home, the fans in attendance get coupons for free burgers. I’ll track which player is responsible for feeding the fans most often during the season.

Mabrey and Young each added a second Burger Basket to their tallies as the regular season wound down. Notre Dame is expected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, so that will provide at least one more chance for somebody to win this imaginary prize outright.

Marina Mabrey – 2

Mikayla Vaughn – 2

Jackie Young – 2

Danielle Cosgrove – 1

Jordan Nixon – 1

Danielle Patterson – 1

Jessica Shepard – 1

Brianna Turner – 1

Coming Up

Saturday 3/9 – 12pm – #4 ND vs. #18 Syracuse – ESPNU

If they win Saturday: Sunday 3/10 – 12pm – ACC Championship Game – ESPN2

Selection Monday: March 18

The Irish played at Syracuse just recently, on February 25th, and came away with a very comfortable 98-68 win. Syracuse is currently 24-7. One thing to keep an eye out for is Notre Dame’s ability to limit them outside the arc. In their quarterfinal win over Miami on Friday, Syracuse set a tournament record with 14 made threes. The Irish have struggled on defense at times this season, and they’ll need to be on their game. Also keep an eye on the Orange’s Tiana Mangakahia, who has been playing exceptionally well this year. She leads the ACC with 8.7 assists per game and racked up 25 points and 13 assists against Miami.

If the Irish win and advance to the final, they will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal game between Louisville and NC State. While Notre Dame is likely to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, some experts project that the region they are assigned to may depend on the outcome of this tournament. A win would likely land them in Chicago, while a loss could have them shipping out to Portland, Oregon.