NOTRE DAME WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Irish on to the Sweet 16

Notre Dame forward Kathryn Westbeld (33) puts a shot up over DePaul guard Chanise Jenkins (13) in the first half of a women's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament in South Bend Sunday. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

SOUTH BEND — After hitting a running floater just eight seconds into the game Sunday night at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame junior Michaela Mabrey started her hot shooting night quickly.

She never left the shooters’ zone, finishing with 19 points on 6-10 shooting, including 5-7 from 3-point range, to help Notre Dame defeat DePaul 79-67 and advance to the Sweet 16 for the sixth consecutive season.

“Just thrilled,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Thrilled to be going back to the Sweet 16 again.”

The Irish (33-2) dominated DePaul inside, finishing with a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint, with a 24-10 edge in the category in the second half. Notre Dame also outrebounded the Blue Demons 51-32.

“We were very dominant inside,” McGraw said. “I think getting (DePaul’s Megan) Podkowa in foul trouble was a big key, also. But we wanted to attack them inside. We felt like we had an advantage.”

Notre Dame freshman forward Brianna Turner finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and sophomore teammate Taya Reimer added 14 points and 10 rebounds as the duo controlled the paint all night long.

McGraw said Reimer gave an “All-American performance.”

Turner missed the rivals’ first matchup on Dec. 10, a contest that Notre Dame won 94-93 in overtime.

With her help in the post, the game wasn’t nearly as close the second time around.

“We knew we were a lot bigger than them, so we were just trying to take advantage of that with all of our post players,” Reimer said. “Just trying to outrebound them, attack the offensive glass, then post up and get some easy buckets inside and attack them inside.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Notre Dame’s win was it came on an off-night for Jewell Loyd, the ACC Player of the Year and candidate for National Player of the Year.

Loyd, who is averaging more than 20 points per game, finished with 10 points on 3-15 shooting.

It was Mabrey who stepped up.

“I think on a night when both stars of each team were uncharacteristically off, it was great to see how the rest of the team picked us up,” McGraw said. “I thought Michaela Mabrey had an unbelievable stretch where she hit some threes, got a couple defensive rebounds, which surprised all of us. Did a really good job. Thought she had a great performance.”

Notre Dame trailed by eight points at two separate times in the first half.

Trailing 24-17 with 9:41 to go in the first half, Notre Dame closed the half on a 20-7 run to take a 37-31 advantage into halftime.

Mabrey hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the run, the first tying the game at 24-24, and the second giving Notre Dame a 27-24 lead, its first lead in the game since the 18:03 mark in the half when it was 4-2.

After Mabrey gave the Irish the lead, they would never trail the rest of the game.

“I think they left me open a little bit,” Mabrey said of her hot-shooting night. “We had such great post play and such great guards, they’re so focused on them that I’m just kind of spotting up wherever they’re going. My teammates found me really well. I owe it all to them honestly.”

Mabrey hit two more 3-pointers in the opening 2:24 of the second half, stretching Notre Dame’s lead to double digits.

“Michaela, she’s such a great shooter,” Reimer said. “Like I said before, when she’s hitting shots, we all just get energy off of that. We play off of that. It gets us into it. We’re all trying to look for her all the time because that brings the defense out when they have to guard her. It’s always exciting when she’s having an on night.”

Follow Robby on Twitter @rhoward_TGN.

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