Feb. 26, 2015
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)– Fourth-ranked Notre Dame couldn’t miss a shot at the start of the second half against Pittsburgh.
The Irish already were up by 13 when Michaela Mabrey started Notre Dame’s field goal streak with a jumper 10 seconds into the half and added another half a minute later. Then, Jewell Loyd hit one. Then, Brianna Turner.
Notre Dame cruised to an 87-59 victory over the Panthers to clinch at least a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season league title as six players hit shots and the Irish put the game away by making their first 11 shots of the second half.
“I thought it was 20 shots,” Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said while laughing.
“Me too,” Pittsburgh guard Brianna Kiesel said. “Me too.”
McConnell Serio said Kiesel turned to her during a timeout and said: “Coach, they just haven’t missed. It’s like they’re throwing a tennis ball in the ocean.”
The Irish made 70 percent of their shots in the second half and shot 63 percent for the game, while the Panthers made just 36 percent of their shots. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said her team just found a rhythm.
“We were scoring in transition. We were making shots. We were using the screen. We were executing really well,” she said. “We just played an intelligent game at that point.”
Notre Dame (27-2, 14-1) can win the ACC title outright for a second straight season with a win Saturday at North Carolina State. The Panthers (18-10, 8-7) dropped to 0-11 all-time in South Bend.
The one bright spot for the Panthers was the play of Kiesel, who led Pitt with 27 points, three points shy of her career high, on 8-of-15 shooting. She was 10 of 11 from the free-throw line.
“We couldn’t guard her,” McGraw said. “She got to the foul line. She did everything she wanted to do.”
Notre Dame, which brought usual starters Turner, Reimer and Michaela Mabrey off the bench so three seniors could start their final regular-season home game, had a 36-10 advantage in bench scoring. The Irish dominated inside, outrebounding Pittsburgh 41-21 and outscoring the Panthers in the paint 44-26.
Notre Dame, which had struggled with emotions early in games on senior night in recent years, had little trouble Thursday, scoring on its first seven possessions with 5-of-6 shooting to open a 14-4 lead. Wright scored eight points during the run.
Loyd said the team wanted to play well for the seniors.
“We wanted to send them out the right way. I think we did that,” she said. “And we’re still not done yet.”
Seniors Whitney Holloway, Wright and Cable started for the Irish. It was Holloway’s first career start, the third of the season for Wright and sixth for Cable, who has a season of eligibility left. … Notre Dame is 134-9 over the past four seasons and the senior class has a shot of breaking the mark of 138-15 put up by last year’s senior class. … Notre Dame leads the series against Pitt 23-3. … Lloyd became the third Notre Dame player to score more than 600 points in two seasons. Her 605 points rank as 10th-most in school history. She finished with 687 points last season, third-most in program history.
The seniors have won conference titles four straight seasons, the first time Notre Dame has accomplished that feat. McGraw wasn’t ready to celebrate, though, saying: “We haven’t won it yet. We’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
Notre Dame plays at North Carolina State on Sunday.