The #5 Irish continued their win streak this week with victories over North Carolina and #19 Duke. They will have their bye this Thursday before hosting Georgia Tech on Sunday. It is good to see them continue to improve and play well. While the chain of comfortable wins does make these posts feel a bit repetitive, I’m not complaining!

Game 1: North Carolina at #5 Notre Dame

The Irish started off the week with their fourth win in a row by 30 or more points. It became clear pretty early that the Tar Heels were going to struggle against the Irish. Jackie Young scored for ND within the first 10 seconds to get things going, and the Irish held the lead for the rest of the game. They were able to get the offense clicking right away, while North Carolina struggled to score. ND was able to seize opportunities to score in transition. By the end of the quarter, they led 26-11, having tallied nine assists on 11 made baskets while holding UNC to 31% shooting. In the second quarter, it continued to seem like the Irish were making whatever shots they wanted. Their defense was also strong. The Tar Heels were not able to get many open looks – there was always a body in the way or a hand in their faces when they wanted to take a shot. By halftime, the lead had grown to 30 at 51-21, behind 16 first half points from Marina Mabrey and 13 from Arike Ogunbowale.

Things quieted down for the Irish offense in the third quarter. All of the shots that were falling in the first half started to balance out. The one scary moment for Irish fans came with 34.6 seconds remaining in the quarter, when Kathryn Westbeld caught an elbow near her eye from a UNC player. In the short time it took for her to make her way back to the bench, the eye had already swollen shut. As you might expect, she did not return to the game. The two teams played fairly evenly in an 18-16 third quarter, leading to a 69-37 Irish lead going into the fourth.

Seemingly tired of the lack of scoring, Ogunbowale kicked off the fourth quarter by sinking three three-pointers in the first 80 seconds to grow the lead to 78-40. The Irish led by as many as 41 points in this quarter. The large lead gave the walk-on players an opportunity to enter the game earlier than usual. In fact, for over four minutes at the end of the game all five starters stayed on the bench while the five bench players finished things out. The bench played well, with good offense from freshman Danielle Patterson during her late-game minutes. Walk-ons Maureen Butler and Nicole Benz were both able to score before the game ended. While UNC chipped into the lead during those last few minutes, the Irish still won comfortably with a final score of 94-62. Marina Mabrey led the team with a season high 25 points while also distributing eight assists. It was an all-around good game for the Irish, whose good passing and unselfish play led to 28 assists on 37 made baskets. They led UNC in the paint 48-16, scored 27 points off of turnovers, and got 24 points from the bench players.

Game 2: #5 Notre Dame at #19 Duke

After four games in a row with huge margins of victory the Irish were probably due for a closer game, and a road game at ranked Duke provided just that. Irish fans got some good news shortly before the game when we learned that Westbeld would play. After the face/eye injury she sustained in the previous game, it wasn’t clear if the swelling would go down enough for her to play in this game. Fortunately, it did so, and she was able to be on the court (complete with an impressive black eye to intimidate the Blue Devils).

The first couple of minutes featured poor shooting from both teams, but good offensive rebounding from Duke. As Notre Dame struggled to score, Duke took a 5-1 lead early before Westbeld finally made the team’s first field goal. This kicked off a 10-0 Irish run to give them an 11-5 lead. Duke responded with a smaller run of their own to cut ND’s lead to 13-12 by the end of the first quarter. Unlike the last few opponents, the Blue Devils did not seem to struggle against the Notre Dame defense early in this game. The second quarter featured eight lead changes as the teams went back and forth. The Irish were able to stretch their lead to six, but were still struggling as they took a 33-29 lead into halftime. The previous stretch of games, things had looked easy and flowed smoothly for the Irish, but in this one it felt like they really had to work hard for everything.

Duke’s first seven points of the second half all came from Lexie Brown, who had been uncharacteristically quiet in th first half as the defense kept getting in her way. The teams tied the game at 36 points. It was not a great start to the third quarter for the Irish, who struggled with turnovers, rebounding, and again, cold shooting. However, things turned around as the quarter went on. Jackie Young contributed a rare three pointer and good all-around offense as the Irish went on a 12-2 run to take the 54-46 lead after the third quarter. For the first part of the fourth quarter, it was all the Irish could do to hang on to a 6 or 8 point lead, but a pair of Arike free throws at 5:36 to go in the game stretched the lead back to 11. The lead continued to grow after that. ND made a season-high nine three-pointers during this game en route to a final score of 72-54. Marina Mabrey led the Irish with 18 and Young was close behind with 17. ND eked out a 28-22 edge in points in the paint, a category they had been dominating recently.

Burger Basket Leaderboard (Season 2)

(At Notre Dame home games where the Irish score 88 points or more, the fans in attendance receive coupons for a free burger. I’m tracking which player is responsible for feeding the fans the most often over the course of the season).

Freshman Danielle Patterson hit a layup with 4:38 remaining in Thursday’s game against North Carolina to give the Irish an 88-49 lead and herself a spot on the leaderboard. With just three home games remaining in the regular season, we’re running out of chances to get an outright winner here.

Marina Mabrey – 2

Kristina Nelson – 2

Arike Ogunbowale – 1

Danielle Patterson – 1

Lili Thompson – 1

Coming Up

This will be a quieter week for the Irish, as they will not have a game on Thursday. They will host Georgia Tech on Sunday. Georgia Tech holds a 14-10 record overall, but has struggled in conference play. They currently stand at 3-8 in the ACC. The Irish visited Georgia Tech on January 7th and came away with a 77-54 victory. Notre Dame has only improved since then, so the Yellow Jackets will have their work cut out for them if they want to keep this one close.