GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale and the rest of fifth-ranked Notre Dame handled Florida State’s challenge to their perfect Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament record with veteran composure – particularly when it came to the fourth quarter.
Mabrey scored a season-high 27 points and the Fighting Irish shot 63 percent in the final quarter to beat No. 11 Florida State 90-80 Saturday in the semifinals, putting them a win away from a record fifth straight tournament title since joining the league in the 2013-14 season.
The second-seeded Fighting Irish (29-2) have gotten to this point despite having only seven scholarship players after a series of knee injuries that sidelined star forward Brianna Turner all season and point guard Lili Thompson on Dec. 31. Yet they shared the regular-season title with No. 5 Louisville, though they ended up with the No. 2 seed after losing the head-to-head matchup.
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”We’re the underdog this year,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. ”It’s a position we’re not used to, and it’s one that we’re really enjoying right now.”
Notre Dame rallied from eight points down in the third quarter, with Mabrey hitting a tough buzzer-beating 3-pointer from near the Notre Dame bench to end the quarter and put Notre Dame ahead for good at 62-60.
”I just figured there was a couple of seconds left – I had to shoot it,” Mabrey said. ”Even though it kind of looks like a chuck-up, I’ve just got to make sure my shoulders are square to give myself the best chance to make the shot.”
That started the decisive 16-4 run, which included Arike Ogunbowale hitting a 3 as part of her own big fourth quarter. The junior guard scored 14 of her 20 points in the final 10 minutes.
”Her and Marina just play really well off of each other,” McGraw said. ”They help each other, they know each other’s moves and where they want the ball.”
Shakayla Thomas scored 24 points for the third-seeded Seminoles (25-6), who erased a 10-point second-quarter deficit and took a 56-48 lead on Nausia Woolfolk’s layup with 4:30 left in the third before the Irish made their move.
”I’m really proud of my team, and just the way that they fought and played together until the end,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. ”I think we grew, and I told them that, you know, sometimes pain and failure is a better teacher than success. So we look forward to the NCAA Tournament.”
Florida State: The Seminoles got here by holding off Miami in Friday’s quarterfinal and shot 45 percent in this one – including 8 of 18 from 3-point range – but it wasn’t enough to earn their first win in eight tries against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish arrived with 13 straight wins, both overall and in the ACC Tournament in their pursuit of joining matching Duke’s record of five straight tournament titles from 2000-04. They had to work to get past FSU, though this ended up in a double-digit margin like so many others during Notre Dame’s four-year tournament streak.
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Ogunbowale was whistled for a technical foul for kicking her leg up and tripping FSU’s Nicki Ekhomu after a turnover with 59.1 seconds left in the first half. Ekhomu hit both free throws for a 41-40 lead, part of FSU’s 14-4 run to close the second quarter and erase a 38-29 deficit.
But Ogunbowale was dominant in the fourth, making 6 of 7 shots while finishing with seven rebounds and five assists.
”Arike was a little frustrated in the first half and she let her emotions get the best of her,” McGraw said. ”And then in the second half, I thought she had a stretch where she was absolutely unstoppable.”
Florida State: The Seminoles will play in the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish will play No. 4 Louisville in Sunday’s championship game. It will be a rematch of Notre Dame’s last loss, a 100-67 defeat at Louisville in January.
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