GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Second-ranked Notre Dame got the kind of test coach Muffet McGraw wanted in March.
Brianna Turner scored 17 points and the Fighting Irish took over late in the third quarter to beat No. 21 Miami 78-67 in Saturday’s semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s tournament, returning to the title game in pursuit of a third straight championship since joining the league.
Lindsay Allen added 14 points for the top-seeded Fighting Irish (30-1), who trailed 47-44 with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the third before pushing back in front. The Irish showed off their offensive balance by putting four players in double figures while playing with the composed confidence that they knew their run would come.
In those decisive moments, Notre Dame made six straight shots as the fifth-seeded Hurricanes - playing for a third straight day - began to fade.
“We need to be challenged like that,” McGraw said. “I think it forces us to really be at our best, to see who’s going to step up, who’s going to get a big defensive stop, who can we count on to get a big rebound. I think it’s an opportunity for everybody to shine a little bit more.”
Notre Dame improved to 56-1 against ACC opponents since joining the league in the 2013-14 season and 8-0 in the tournament entering Sunday’s final against No. 17 Syracuse, which beat No. 7 Louisville 80-75 in its semifinal game.
“We really don’t care who scores the most points, who gets the most rebounds,” Allen said. “Anyone can step up for this team at any point, and our system is such that anyone can pass it, anyone can make the basket.”
Jessica Thomas scored 17 points for Miami (24-8), which was in its second semifinal and trying to reach its first title game.
Miami got off to a strong start and frustrated the Irish for the first 25 minutes. But after Erykah Davenport’s three-point play put the Hurricanes ahead, they managed one basket over a nine-minute stretch just as the Fighting Irish started putting together their own flurry.
Mychal Johnson answered Davenport with a tying 3-pointer, and then Allen hit two straight shots to put the Irish ahead for good. Madison Cable ended the run by scoring a layup off a steal to push the lead to 63-53 with 8:52 left.
Notre Dame shot 14 of 24 (58 percent) after halftime.
“Anytime that we took the lead or they were on the ropes or whatever, they hit a big shot,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “And it was a different kid each time. That’s why they’re great.”
Miami: The Hurricanes remain the only ACC team to beat the Fighting Irish since Notre Dame joined the league. That came in January 2015. . Leading scorer Adrienne Motley scored 10 on 3-for-13 shooting. . The Hurricanes made nine 3-pointers, but just one after halftime.
Notre Dame: Cable also scored 14…. Notre Dame had 18 points off turnovers. . The Fighting Irish made 21 of 28 free throws. … This is Notre Dame’s sixth straight 30-win season.
Meier had called Thomas “Ms. March” after she scored 21 points with a career-high five 3-pointers in Friday’s quarterfinal win against No. 14 Florida State. The 5-foot-6 junior hit five more 3s Saturday.
It was much different from last month’s meeting, when Notre Dame led by 19 at half in a 90-69 home win. The Hurricanes hit four 3s in the opening three minutes Saturday for a jolt of early momentum and trailed 39-38 at halftime.
“Obviously we were really thrilled with our improvement from the last time we faced them,” Meier said. “And as a coach, your whole job is where were you in January, where were you in February, where are you in March? And this March Miami team is pretty damn good.”
Miami will play in the NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame faces No. 17 Syracuse in Sunday’s championship game.
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