Dec. 20, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
EAST LANSING, Mich. – The No. 2 Notre Dame women’s basketball team has taken strides to better itself by playing a series of road games against winning teams in loud arenas. That paid off on Tuesday night as the Irish (11-1) never trailed and were seldom threatened in defeating 10-3 Michigan State, 79-61, before 7,924 fans at the Breslin Center.
The win is Notre Dame’s 14th in a row on the road and its third in the past 10 days including victories at then-No. 16 DePaul and 8-2 Toledo.
Marina Mabrey and Brianna Turner tied for the Irish scoring lead against the Spartans with 19 points apiece. Mabrey also added five assists while Turner blocked five Michigan State shots. Kathryn Westbeld turned in a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Despite battling foul trouble, Lindsay Allen did a little bit of everything with nine points, six assists and five rebounds.
With the win, Notre Dame has now won five straight games over Michigan State and leads the all-time series, 9-8. The Irish have now claimed 17 consecutive wins over Big Ten schools (active at game time) and 25 in a row over schools who are currently members of the league.
Ending the Third Quarter Like Champions
A turning-point possession in the game came as the third quarter closed. Jankoska buried a pull-up transition jumper to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 10 points at 60-50. Just 29 seconds remained on the clock and several Irish players appeared winded as the team went into a holding pattern for the final shot. The Spartans settled back into a half-court defense and most of the team slapped the floor as the Breslin Center crowd roared.
Notre Dame, the team known instead of slapping the famed “Play Like a Champion” sign responded properly. Arike Ogunbowale sank a short jumper moments before the clock expired, silencing the arena. The Irish took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter and never trailed by less than 10 for the rest of the night.
Junior guard Mychal Johnson earned the second start of her career on Tuesday night in place of Arike Ogunbowale and her first start since the season-opener against Central Michigan on Nov. 11. Johnson immediately made a good play at the defensive end. On the Spartans’ first possession, she forced Tori Jankoska into an awkward 3-point try which one of the country’s top scorers missed.
Johnson’s contributions proved particularly crucial as the game wore on and fellow guard Lindsay Allen ran into foul trouble in both the first and second halves. Johnson played 28 minutes in all, many of them strong on defense. Offensively, Johnson chipped in a season-high five assists and three points.
Johnson’s contributions this season are less visible in traditional basketball stats and more evident in things like +/-40, measuring the difference in points scored vs. points allowed while a certain player is on the court averaged over a game’s full 40 minutes. Brianna Turner narrowly leads the Irish in this category at +29.33, just ahead of Kathryn Westbeld’s +29.31. Johnson leads the rest of her teammates this season at +27.06.
Tonight’s game marked the first one this year when all 11 players were available to play and the first where all 11 saw game action. Although limited as she continues to recover from an ankle sprain suffered on Dec. 7 against UConn, Jackie Young checked back into the Irish lineup late in the first quarter tonight for the first time since the contest against the Huskies.
Young played just two minutes and did not record any statistics before yielding to her still-sore ankle. Fellow former Indiana Miss Basketball Ali Patberg continued her recovery from the after-affects of a virus tonight as she played the game’s final minute.
Brianna Turner reached the 1,100 career point plateau when she hit a free throw at the end of the third quarter. Turner finished the game with 1,102 career points to her credit, four behind Danielle Green (1995-2000) who stands 29th with her 1,106.
Notre Dame will take a few days off for the Christmas holiday before returning to action on Dec. 27 at Chattanooga in the season’s penultimate non-conference contest.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball and men’s golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.