Entering the ACC women’s basketball tournament, Duke found itself perched uncomfortably on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid according to the sport’s bracketologists. The Blue Devils won’t know whether that bubble has burst for 10 days.
Top-seeded and second-ranked Notre Dame ran the Blue Devils out of the Greensboro Coliseum in Friday’s ACC quarterfinals, routing mistake-prone Duke 83-54 as the Irish took their first step to a third consecutive ACC tournament title.
Notre Dame (29-1) will play fifth-seeded and No. 21 Miami (24-7), which earlier Friday upset fourth-seeded and No. 14 Florida State 74-56, in the semifinals at noon Saturday. Duke (20-12) meanwhile must wait until the NCAA bids are announced March 14.
“That was not a great game for us,” Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. “Congrats to Notre Dame. I thought they played very well. The second and third quarters were obviously very difficult for us. I know we could have played better, and I feel like it didn’t represent all that we’ve got.”
For the second game in the tournament the Blue Devils played without redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell, who is listed as day-to-day because of a chronic back injury. She was an All-ACC second-team pick and the team’s second-leading scorer. And she was coming off her best game of the season, a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double in a 93-57 romp at North Carolina.
Azura Stevens, who had missed seven games with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in her left foot, played her second game since the injury and recorded her ACC-best 14th double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. But the 6-foot-6 sophomore didn’t get much help as Duke shot only 32 percent for the afternoon. Duke’s 19 turnovers also led to 21 points for Notre Dame.
“I was very proud of Azura to play back-to-back games on a very bad foot,” McCallie said. “It shows her character and stature as a top player and an All-American, and as somebody who can make huge differences in the game.”
Greenwell’s absence allowed Notre Dame to play a 2-3 zone all afternoon and negate Duke’s considerable height advantage. The Irish outrebounded Duke 44-32, and the rebounds – coupled with some untimely Duke turnovers – allowed Notre Dame to break things open with its transition game.
“We don’t like a deliberate pace,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought we were playing their pace (in the first quarter). … We want to score quickly and have an up-tempo game. We thought we had an advantage running the floor, and we needed to rebound to do that.”
For the 10th time this season, Notre Dame had five scorers in double figures. The Irish were paced by freshman guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, who scored 14 apiece off the bench. Madison Cable and Michaela Mabrey, Marina’s older sister, had 11 each. Brianna Turner added 10 and shared team rebounding honors at seven with reserve Hannah Huffman. The Irish bench averages 31 points per game and hit for 42 against Duke.
“I was really pleased with our bench today,” McGraw said. “I thought they came in ready. They gave us a lift. … So really happy with the way we were able to score. And no turnovers in the first half is probably some kind of record for us.”
The Irish (29-1) had rallied for a 68-61 victory at Duke on Feb. 1, but the Blue Devils led late in that game before frittering away the opportunity. The rematch wasn’t close for long.
Leading 14-11 after one quarter, the Irish opened the second period on a 14-2 run, and in one span of 1:09 Duke committed three consecutive turnovers without taking a shot. Those miscues were converted into seven points on a 3-pointer by Cable and fast-break layups by Huffman and Lindsay Allen for a 28-13 lead, prompting a timeout by Duke.
Huffman’s 3-pointer made it 35-15 with 3:39 to go in the half, although the Blue Devils were able to whittle the deficit to 15 by intermission, 39-24.
However, Duke missed six of its first seven shots in the third quarter and never mounted a serious challenge again.
McCallie sounded hopeful that Duke’s story this season will bring an NCAA bid.
“I feel they’ve overcome a great deal more than any team in the country,” she said. “Despite today, we are the greatest story. … No one out there has any idea what we’ve been through, and what we’ll continue to go through.”
McCallie said she expected Greenwell to be available for the postseason and said the Blue Devils would benefit from the time off to practice and get healthy.
“It’s a great opportunity for us first to rest over the weekend, then to come back and work,” McCallie said. “We are very fortunate that way.”
She added, “We’re trying to control what we can control.”