Defending national champion Notre Dame may be on the cusp of moving to the top spot in the next Top 25.
That didn’t stop coach Muffet McGraw from sharp criticism of what she considered to be a lackluster performance in a runaway win over Georgia Tech. Jessica Shepard scored 19 points, most on layups, and No. 2 Notre Dame was dominant inside in overpowering Georgia Tech 76-55 on Sunday.
The Fighting Irish had a season-high 30 assists on their 34 field goals, but that evidence of offensive efficiency wasn’t enough to impress McGraw.
Notre Dame had averaged 90 points while scoring at least 100 five times this season, so 76 points was below par.
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“I didn’t think we played well,” McGraw said. “I thought we weren’t focused.”
The Fighting Irish, who led by 30 points in the final quarter, outscored the Yellow Jackets 60-20 in the paint.
“I think anytime we have a mismatch inside, the goal is to get it inside,” Shepard said. “… Just to get touches inside is really important to us. I think the guards did a great job of passing.”
Arike Ogunbowale had 13 points and 12 assists and Brianna Turner had 11 points with nine rebounds for Notre Dame.
With No. 1 UConn’s loss to Baylor on Thursday night, Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) could claim the top spot in Monday’s new poll. UConn gave the Fighting Irish their only loss on Dec. 2.
Notre Dame has won seven straight entering an ACC showdown with No. 3 Louisville this Thursday night.
“We don’t care about that (poll) but it’s a big game on Thursday we need to be ready for,” McGraw said. “It wasn’t that we were looking forward to that at all. I think we just played poorly.”
Elizabeth Balogun led Georgia Tech (11-4, 1-1) with 14 points. Elizabeth Dixon had 12. Both are freshmen.
“I think we defensively did what we needed to do to win,” said Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph. “We just didn’t score, and when you can’t score against Notre Dame, that puts you in position where you’re guarding transition. That was one of the things I was worried about.”
Notre Dame, which scored 24 fast-break points, improved to 11-0 against Georgia Tech and 79-3 in the ACC since entering the league for the 2013-14 season.
After leading only 18-15 after the first quarter, Notre Dame outscored Georgia Tech 21-7 in the second period. The Fighting Irish established dominance inside, opening the quarter with an 8-0 run that started with back-to-back layups by Turner.
Dixon had the Yellow Jackets’ only three field goals of the second quarter.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish took advantage of the 6-foot-4 Shepard and 6-foot-3 Turner by consistently forcing passes inside. Despite making only 1 of 10 3-point attempts, Notre Dame was good on 54.8 percent (34 of 62) of its shots from the field.
Georgia Tech: After winning six of its last seven, Georgia Tech was worn down by Notre Dame’s inside attack. Led by Balogun, the Yellow Jackets scored 8 of the game’s first 10 points.
CHEERS FOR ARIKE
Ogunbowale made only 5 of 17 shots but still earned praise from Joseph.
“That’s a great player when you’re not hitting but you share the ball,” Joseph said. “That’s an elite player. That’s a first-round draft pick if not the No. 1 player in the draft. … She went and got 12 assists. That’s what All-Americans do. That’s what national players of the year do.”
A highlight for the Georgia Tech students in the crowd came when Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, who had 11 points, combined to miss four straight free throws on successive possessions. That excited the fans, because Georgia Tech cheerleaders fire T-shirts into the stands when opposing players miss two straight free throws. Fans chanted “free T-shirts!” after each first miss and cheered when the second misses led to the freebies being tossed into the crowd.
Notre Dame: Hosts No. 3 Louisville on Thursday night.
Georgia Tech: Hosts Duke on Thursday night.