For the fifth time in their six years in the ACC, the #4 Irish have won the conference tournament. They did so with decisive wins over #18 Syracuse in the semifinal and #3 Louisville in the final. The offense is certainly rolling for ND as they await the NCAA Tournament.

ACC Semifinal: #4 ND vs. #18 Syracuse

The Irish looked ready to go on Saturday as they jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, but then lost their momentum. Shots weren’t falling, and Syracuse took advantage by going on a run of their own. Concerns about the Orange’s prolific three-point shooting surfaced early, as their 8-0 run included a pair of threes before forcing a quick Notre Dame timeout. While the offense settled down the defense continued to struggle, particularly outside the arc, as the teams traded baskets before tying things up at 13. The Irish offense really started getting things clicking in transition as the quarter went on. Syracuse’s three-point shooting kept the game within reach as they connected on five threes in the quarter, but the Irish were able to grow their lead to 31-21 at the quarter’s end.

After the smooth offense of the first quarter, ND struggled with some cold shooting in the second quarter. The defense still wasn’t playing up to Muffet McGraw’s standards, but gave the Orange fewer open looks from three during this quarter. Abby Prohaska saw more time on the floor and continued to show her grit on the defensive end. Syracuse wasn’t able to take advantage of ND’s missed shots, and the Irish stretched the lead to 44-31 at halftime.

The Notre Dame offense was back in their groove as the third quarter began, scoring in the paint early and often as they ran out to a 20 point lead at 53-33. Syracuse responded with a run of their own to cut the lead to 11 as the Irish defense continued to frustrate McGraw. The Irish were able to take advantage of a lot of trips to the free throw line as the third quarter went on, and put together a 15-2 run to end the quarter up 70-46. The Irish bench spent more time on the court in the fourth quarter, with some combinations of two starters and three bench players, as the starters were able to get some rest during the taxing tournament schedule. With just under six minutes remaining in the game, Marina Mabrey hit the 262nd three-pointer of her career to tie Alicia Ratay’s Notre Dame record. About a minute and a half later, she hit another to make the record her own. The Irish continued to grow the lead en route to a 91-66 final score. Jackie Young (18p, 13r) and Jessica Shepard (16p, 12r) both recorded double-doubles for the Irish in a remarkably balanced scoring attack that saw the five starters finish with 18, 16, 16, 14, and 12 points. Two other stats of note in this game: ND finished 17-19 from the free throw line, for a really impressive 89.5%. They outscored the Orange in the paint 50-28.

ACC Final: #4 ND vs. #3 Louisville

On Sunday Notre Dame faced Louisville in a rematch of last year’s ACC final. Louisville was without starter Arica Carter due to an injury sustained in the semifinal, and both teams were playing their third game in three days. A lot was riding on this game – both the ACC title and, presumably, the #1 seed in the Chicago region for the NCAA Tournament. Maybe due to a combination of these factors, both teams made some early mistakes their first few possessions before settling in. As expected, it was a close game early with the teams trading baskets and multiple ties. However, the Irish transition game soon kicked into high gear and they stretched to a 20-9 lead. The Cardinals were able to stem the tide and keep ND to a 10 point lead at 27-17 at the end of the first quarter.

The defense struggled in the second quarter as the Cardinals took advantage of the open looks the Irish gave them. The Cardinals played tough defense on their end, and were able to close the gap to 35-30. With so much on the line, this seemed like a more physical game. ND was able to stretch their lead back to 10 with more scoring in the paint, but didn’t hold it as Louisville cut the lead back down to six. Jackie Young played a great first half, with 12 points and 9 rebounds, as ND took a 48-39 lead into halftime. One factor made a clear difference in the half: the Irish collected 11 offensive rebounds compared to 0 for the Cardinals.

Not for the first time this season, the Irish were able to start to pull away in the third quarter. Brianna Turner continued her multi-game streak of exceptionally consistent shooting and the team continued to rack up offensive rebounds. Looking very smooth on offense, the Irish wrapped up the quarter with a buzzer beater from Mikayla Vaughn to make it 73-56. ND held this lead comfortably for the remainder of the game. The starters stayed in for the majority of the quarter – both a testament to McGraw’s respect for Louisville’s ability to make a run, and to the lack of production generally provided by ND’s bench. The last four starters didn’t leave the game until there was 1:36 left on the clock, and ND did not score after that point. The Irish came away with the 99-79 win. This included a season’s best 72 points in the paint, compared to 40 for the Cardinals. Once again, Young (21p, 10r) and Shepard (30p, 13r) provided double-doubles, while Turner added 20 points and Mabrey and Ogunbowale each added 12. The Irish collected 23 offensive rebounds in this game while outrebounding Louisville 44-29. Not a bad way to win your fifth ACC title in six years.

ACC Tournament Fun Facts

  • The Irish averaged 95 points per game during the ACC Tournament, bringing their season average up to 89.
  • Notre Dame turned in a dominating performance, winning their three tournament games by an average of 21 points.
  • Jackie Young was named tournament MVP, with Jessica Shepard joining her on the All-Tournament first team and Arike Ogunbowale making the second team.

Coming Up

The NCAA Tournament selection show will air on ESPN on Monday, March 18. Notre Dame is expected to be the #1 seed in the Chicago region, providing a nice short bus ride for team, band, and fans alike if the team advances to the Sweet Sixteen. They will host the first two rounds on campus with the first round taking place March 22nd and 23rd.