SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Anything that could’ve gone wrong for Western Kentucky did.
Notre Dame, the reigning national champions, welcomed WKU to the Purcell Pavilion and quickly showed the Lady Toppers the door.
The No. 2 Fighting Irish scored at will and squashed WKU 94-53 in front of more than 7,500 in attendance Wednesday night.
The Lady Toppers (5-8) produced season-lows in points scored and shooting percentage in a game that was never close.
Notre Dame scored the first eight points, led 23-8 after one quarter and pushed the margin to 38 by halftime thanks to 14 first-half turnovers by WKU.
“We came in and turned the ball over too much and that’s what cost us,” WKU guard Alexis Brewer said. “I feel like this is the best team we’ve played so far. They really got after us defensively and pushed us to know what we need to work on.”
Notre Dame (10-1) pushed the Lady Toppers around defensively and scored easy transition buckets in the first half.
The Fighting Irish shot a blistering 69 percent from the field and had an 81 percent clip from the floor in the first half.
Notre Dame’s starting five combined to shoot 23-of-30 with 6-foot-4 forward Jessica Shepard (12 points) hitting all six of her shots and Brianna Turner (10 points) making good on her four attempts.
Marina Mabrey had 20 points for the Fighting Irish, who scored 33 points off 21 WKU turnovers.
“We committed a lot of turnovers,” WKU redshirt junior Dee Givens said. “Everyone came out hesitant and scared to make certain passes or just didn’t want to do what they usually do.”
Notre Dame swept the two-game series with WKU that began last season with a 13-point Fighting Irish victory in front of more than 5,000 in attendance at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Those early miscues never allowed WKU to even make it a game in the series finale.
Givens and Raneem Elgedawy were the only Lady Toppers in double figures with 10 points each.
Givens entered leading WKU at 19.6 points per game, but she was held well below that average on just 3-of-16 shooting.
The Lady Toppers finished the night shooting 21-of-69 (30.4 percent) from the floor and never had a chance to mount any momentum. WKU’s eight points in the second quarter tied a season-low in quarter scoring this season, but it did even worse in the second quarter with just seven points.
“They did not have an anxiousness or nervousness about the stage,” WKU coach Greg Collins said. “I think because of the teams we’ve played this year, they were comfortable today. What they weren’t prepared for was the level of defense they’d face in taking care of the ball. We adjusted to that and got better. Only seven turnovers in the second half and that’s an improvement.
“We’ll take a lot of teaching points from this going forward.”
WKU has one more contest before the Conference USA slate begins – a Dec. 29 tilt against a Division-II Union (Tenn.) unbeaten and ranked No. 1 among D-II teams.
WKU played four teams ranked in the Associated Press top 15 at the time between Louisville, Iowa and Oregon State and then the national champions on the road Wednesday.
The Fighting Irish played on a different level compared to either of WKU’s other ranked matchups.
“One through five can score so I think they’re the best team we’ve played so far,” Givens said. “Coming in, we’ve played teams similar to them and we knew they were ranked second in the nation. We played Iowa and Louisville and Oregon State and we came out like we did for those games and did the best we could.”
And while Collins is strictly focused what WKU can do against C-USA teams, the goal of exiting the nonconference schedule with positives isn’t based off wins and losses. The first-year coach found WKU responded well in the fourth quarter even if trailing by as many as 47 points.
With Hall of Fame coach Muffett McGraw emptying the bench in the fourth quarter, WKU finally got in a groove for 21 points and 8-of-19 from the field, 5-of-10 on 3-pointers.
Collins also thought the Lady Toppers were better in half court defense, which came with few opportunities since 27 of Notre Dame’s 94 points came on fast breaks.
“I was worried about our intensity after our last game and we played really solid half-court defense I felt like,” Collins said. “We just spent all the night chasing them in the first half in transition. It’s hard to play half-court defense when you’re turning the ball over and playing 2-on-1.”
WKU takes a long break before hosting Union on Dec. 29, which will mark the first meeting between the two schools. The game will be an exhibition for Union.
Greg Collins is 5-8 in his first year as the WKU women’s basketball coach. … Notre Dame leads the all-times series with WKU 3-0. … The Lady Toppers are 0-8 when trailing at halftime. … WKU outscored Notre Dame 23-20 in the fourth quarter after scoring just 15 points in the first half. … WKU forced 21 turnovers by Notre Dame, the fourth game this season WKU has forced a team into 20 or more turnovers. … Dee Givens extended her double-figure scoring streak to 13 games. … Announced attendance was 7,502.
— Follow sports reporter Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com