SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The first words out of Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw’s mouth at her postgame news conference were a good indication of how thoroughly the third-ranked Fighting Irish dominated North Carolina on Sunday.
“I’m really happy,” said McGraw, who usually finds something to critique even after lopsided victories. “I think we’re playing really well. I think we’re starting to really gel as a team. We’re finding our comfort zone. Defensively, I’m really, really pleased.”
What’s not to be pleased with? The Irish outscored the Tar Heels 50-14 in the paint, held North Carolina to 30 percent shooting overall, blocked seven shots and forced 23 turnovers in an 88-54 victory. It was the worst loss in three seasons for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell described the game as a learning experience for the Tar Heels, especially the three starting freshmen.
“This is the first time they’ve played in a game like this against a team ranked this high,” Hatchell said. “They’re going to learn. They went in there and tried to do some things that they were able to do against some other teams. They weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Senior forward Xylina McDaniel, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, said she tried to warn her younger teammates.
“A few of us were trying to stress to the younger ones how good they really are. No matter who’s on the floor, they can shoot,” she said. “I think they just didn’t understand where we were trying to come from.”
Arike Ogunbowale scored 16 points, Marina Mabrey added 14 as the Notre Dame bench outscored North Carolina’s reserves 42-10 and Brianna Turner had 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots for the Irish (15-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who had little trouble in winning their eighth straight.
Destinee Walker led the Tar Heels (12-6, 2-1) with 12 points and Jamie Cherry had 10.
Turner, playing for the fifth time after missing six games with an injury to her right shoulder, scored all her baskets inside, Ogunbowale repeatedly drove inside on North Carolina for layups and Mabrey and Madison Cable, who added 12, scored from inside and outside.
“We’re good when we’re attacking and transitioning. They can’t guard us,” Ogunbowale said. “We have a lot of guards that are quick and can get to the basket.”
The Irish used a 9-0 run late in the first quarter and a 13-0 run early in the second quarter to open a 36-17 lead and continued to pull away throughout, which kept McGraw happy.
“It feels really good after the game to come in and look in the locker room and see the balance in scoring and how we’re sharing the ball,” she said.
Notre Dame’s reserves have outscored their opponents in 15 of 16 games. … Walker missed her first 10 shots before hitting a 3-pointer late in the third quarter. … The last time Tennessee lost by more than 34 was a 102-57 loss at No. 16 Tennessee on Dec. 2, 2012.
North Carolina: Hatchell, who earned her 700th win at UNC on Jan. 3, briefly held up a placard with the No. 800 on it before the game in honor of McGraw, who notched her 800th career victory last week. Hatchell’s career record is 973-345. … The fewest points UNC had scored previously this season was in a 66-63 loss to Pacific on Nov. 25. … The most points the Tar Heels had previously allowed was in an 85-72 loss to Northwestern on Dec. 2. The Tar Heels fell to 1-5 against the Irish.
Notre Dame: McGraw was recognized before the game for her 800th career victory, which occurred Jan. 3 over Pittsburgh. The win Sunday was victory No. 802. McGraw described it as an emotional moment. “Just to look up and sell all those fans and know they’ve been here for so many of those wins.” … The crowd booed when the announcer said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is among the coaches who have 800 career wins. … The Irish are 35-1 in three seasons against ACC opponents and have won 20 straight league games.
North Carolina travels to Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Notre Dame travels to Boston College on Thursday.