Duke played one of its best defensive games of the season and made a stirring comeback on Saturday at Greensboro Coliseum.
Too bad about that lost first half.
Jewell Loyd led the way with 21 points as top-seeded and defending champion Notre Dame repelled the Blue Devils 55-49 in the semifinals of the ACC women’s basketball tournament.
Both teams finished with their lowest point total of the season in the defensive-oriented contest.
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Notre Dame (30-2) will take on either Florida State or Louisville in Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale, marking just the second time that an ACC women’s final in Greensboro will not include a North Carolina team.
Brianna Turner had eight points and 11 rebounds for the Irish.
“I thought Jewell Loyd took over the game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Five baskets in a row (late in the second half) and had some amazing offensive production.
“We were able to outrebound Duke, which is a really great accomplishment. I think Elizabeth Williams is a phenomenal player. She’s just really hard to guard and did a nice job inside.”
Elizabeth Williams had 15 points, Ka’lia Johnson 12 and Azura Stevens 11 for the Blue Devils, who scored only 15 points in the first 20 minutes and were playing from behind the whole way.
Duke (21-10), ranked No. 16 in the latest AP poll, is a lock for an NCAA tournament bid and will likely host the first two rounds at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It was a great basketball game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We ran out of time. We needed a longer game. We gave the first half away when they played well and we did not.
“Then we spent the whole second half getting ourselves in a position to try to get after the game. I’m extremely proud of our team’s fight in the second half. That reflects the kind of fight you have to have in this world. “
The No. 2 Irish won the teams’ only regular-season meeting 63-50 on Feb. 16.
Notre Dame shot 38.6 percent from the floor to Duke’s 32.2 and won the rebound battle 42-36. Duke committed 12 turnovers to the winners’ 16.
ACC player of the year Loyd scored 14 second-half points, all over the last 10 minutes, 17 seconds while Duke was making its challenge.
“I just try to lead by example,” the junior Loyd said. “We’re young but very motivated. It makes it easier when you have underclassmen that want to learn and step in and do their roles.”
The Irish led 26-15 at the break after an icy first half in which Notre Dame shot 30 percent and Duke 25.9. Notre Dame, led by nine points from Michaela Mabrey, outrebounded Duke 25-16 over the period and turned the ball over 12 times to the Blue Devils’ 10.
Stevens had seven points at halftime for the Blue Devils.
“It’s definitely a lesson learned,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, we don’t like to learn lessons this way. If we can take the momentum from the second half and take that toughness through the (NCAA) tournament, I think we’ll be OK.”
Notre Dame went on an 12-0 run to take a 14-2 lead on a Turner free throw with 11:50 left in the half.
Duke trailed 44-32 following a Loyd layup with 8:15 to go before making its stretch run. Rebecca Greenwell’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left cut the deficit to 50-46, but the Blue Devils got no closer.
“You just can’t wait to start playing at the 10-minute mark,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we came out ready. We turned it on in the second half, but it’s tournament time and you just can’t wait around.”