No. 4 Irish women beat No. 3 Louisville to win ACC tourney
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Jessica Shepard snipped the net, then gave it a twirl over her head.
That’s fitting — she and Notre Dame did some of their best work around the rim.
Shepard had a season-high 30 points and 13 rebounds, and the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish claimed their fifth Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title in six years by routing No. 3 Louisville 99-79 on Sunday.
Tournament MVP Jackie Young added 21 points and 10 rebounds, Brianna Turner had 20 points and Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale scored 12 apiece for the top-seeded Irish (30-3).
The defending national champs never trailed in beating the Cardinals for the second time this season and avenging their loss in last year’s ACC championship game — their only one in conference tournament play since joining the ACC in 2013-14.
“When you beat ranked teams by as much as we did this weekend, I think it sends a great message” to the rest of the nation, coach Muffet McGraw said.
Notre Dame outscored Louisville 72-40 in the paint and built a 44-29 rebounding edge. The Cardinals didn’t have one key player to start the game, lost another and frequently used a four-guard lineup.
“Coming into the game, we knew we had a mismatch,” Shepard said. “The guards did a great job of passing the ball inside. … You can just throw it up to the rim and watch (Turner) get it.”
Bionca Dunham scored 18 points and ACC player of the year Asia Durr finished with 15 for the second-seeded and short-handed Cardinals (29-3). The ACC’s second-best 3-point-shooting team shot a season-worst 11 percent from long range and missed all 12 3s they tried over the final 25 minutes.
“This is not our final goal,” Durr said. “We’ve just got to learn from it and continue to push forward.”
Louisville: Only one of the Cardinals’ three senior mainstays — Durr — lasted until the end of this one, partly explaining their struggles in the paint. Arica Carter, who scored 16 points in a semifinal win over No. 9 North Carolina State, was out with a leg injury and coach Jeff Walz said he found out 20 minutes before tipoff that she couldn’t go. Then, leading rebounder Sam Fuehring injured an ankle early in the second quarter and played only two minutes in the second half.
“I wasn’t willing to sacrifice (Fuehring) being able to play in 2½ weeks when the big tournament starts up,” Walz said.
Notre Dame: Young had said that 74-72 loss to Louisville in last year’s title game stuck with the Irish — even as they got the last laugh last April by winning the program’s second national title. They won three games this weekend by an average of 21 points to improve to 17-1 all-time in this tournament.
“We came in with a goal of bringing the trophy back to South Bend,” McGraw said, “and I felt like we played really well in every game.”
The ACC’s most productive offense once again carved up its best defense. Notre Dame, which averages a league-best 88.7 points, hung at least 80 points on Louisville for the second time after beating the Cardinals 82-68 exactly two months earlier in a 1-vs.-2 matchup. Louisville had allowed 80 points only one other time — in the opener against Western Kentucky.
Shepard’s previous season best of 28 points came in the opener against Harvard on Nov. 9. . Notre Dame’s 27 points in the first quarter were the most allowed by Louisville in that quarter all season. . The Cardinals, who trailed 48-39 at halftime, have not overcome a halftime deficit of more than three points this season.
Louisville: Headed to the NCAA Tournament — possibly as a No. 1 seed.
Notre Dame: Headed to the NCAA Tournament — likely as a No. 1 seed, perhaps in the Chicago Regional.