SOUTH BEND – The Notre Dame women’s basketball team got an early taste of the postseason Monday night with a physical game that was decided with grit.
And the fourth-ranked Irish proved their toughness by prevailing 68-52 over No. 8 Louisville at Purcell Pavilion.
As usual, junior shooting guard Jewell Loyd led the way for Notre Dame, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds, but this performance was more about guts than flash.
"I think everybody’s going to try to be physical with us," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "That seems to be the game plan. It was a really physical game. That was something you could see we needed to get better at."
The Irish (26-2, 13-1 ACC) were challenged at home more than any time since a visit from defending national champion Connecticut in the first week of December. The Huskies delivered one punch after another that day, and Notre Dame fell back on its heels and couldn’t respond.
That was not the case Monday as the Irish stayed the course and at last wrestled control of the contest midway through the second half. It was 31-28 Irish after an opening half in which neither side led by more than five.
The Cardinals (23-4, 11-3) took a 37-35 advantage on a transition layup by Mariya Moore with 16:03 left. That’s when the patient Irish, undeterred by this test from a quality opponent, began to make their move.
Point guard Lindsay Allen found Loyd and Taya Reimer for back-to-back scores causing Louisville coach Jeff Walz to call timeout. Then the Irish scored on four of their first five trips out of the stoppage and later Brianna Turner’s layup capped what was a 16-0 run.
"We finally got something going," McGraw said
The announced crowd of 8,911 roared when Walz earned a technical foul during the nearly five-minute stretch.
"We panicked at times," Walz said. "Going too fast."
Allen had nine points and tied a career high with nine assists, and Turner racked up 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Reimer totaled 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting. The forward neared the school’s 56-year-old record of field goals without a miss (12).
Moore, Shawnta’ Dyer and Sara Hammond each finished with a team-high 11 points for Louisville, which shot just 33 percent from the field.
Notre Dame shot 49 percent, getting 21 of its 23 baskets from inside the 3-point arc. The Irish hit 20 of 23 attempts from the foul line.
Wearing pink shoes and special uniforms with pink trim to raise awareness for breast cancer research, Notre Dame moved a win shy of clinching a share of the ACC title."We’re building," Loyd said. "You want to keep getting better each game. That’s what we’re doing."
Note: At halftime, Notre Dame’s Monogram Club honored former Irish star Ruth Riley as its recipient of the 2015 Edward Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award. "She does so many things overseas and for other people," McGraw said. "She is an amazing woman."