PITTSBURGH — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw wanted a better defensive performance, and the Fighting Irish delivered — for a half, at least.
Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd scored 20 points apiece, and the second-ranked Irish clamped down on Pittsburgh in a 109-66 victory on Thursday night.
Notre Dame shot 61 percent (40 for 66) from the field and held Pitt to 37.1 percent shooting. The Panthers had only nine field goals on 28.1 percent shooting in the first half.
“I thought the first half was very good,” McGraw said. “I thought late in the game we weren’t as interested defensively as we could have been.”
The Irish (16-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) were coming off a 79-72 victory at Virginia on Sunday that included 47.1 percent shooting for the Cavaliers in the first half.
“We felt we gave up too many points,” McGraw said. “Monday, we had a completely defensive practice, no offense whatsoever.”
It was a vastly different performance against the Panthers.
The Irish grabbed control with a tiebreaking 12-0 run early in the first half and led 54-25 at the break. The advantage ballooned to as many as 45 points in the second half.
“We were just sharing the ball, just making the extra pass,” McBride said. “There’s a good shot, but we can probably find a better one and we were hitting tonight.”
The Irish had 25 assists on their 40 field goals. They finished with nine turnovers.
“I think we’re starting to know each other a lot better on the court,” Loyd said. “We were just trying to be patient and make the right decisions.”
Brianna Kiesel led the Panthers with 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting. The junior guard made all eight of her free-throw attempts and converted 2 of 3 attempts from beyond the arc.
Marquel Davis added 10 points for Pitt (9-9, 1-3).
Kiesel, who had played over 100 consecutive minutes, rested for the final 12 minutes. The Irish played the final nine minutes without a single starter on the floor.
Notre Dame had five players score in double figures. Natalie Achonwa had 14 points, reserve Michaela Mabrey scored 13 and Taya Reimer had 10.
The Irish were dominant inside, outscoring Pitt 46-18 in the paint and outrebounding the Panthers 35-31.