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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie believes the seventh-ranked Blue Devils can take encouragement from rallying back from an 18-point deficit early against No. 2 Notre Dame to at least make a game out of it in the second half before losing 81-70 on Sunday.
"I think the team has that resolve. I think it's a reflection of our leadership. They were definitely mad and frustrated. But we definitely have some folks who fight and wanted to fight," she said. "I wish everyone could have ended the game in a healthy way. I wish a lot of things about today."
Her biggest wish following the game was that a left knee injury to point guard Alexis Jones isn't any more serious than the original diagnosis of a sprain. Jones injured the knee driving to the basket for a layup that cut the lead to seven points for the first of three times, but the Blue Devils couldn't get any closer.
McCallie was particularly bothered by Duke's 23 turnovers, including 14 in the first half.
"That's just too many first-half turnovers," she said. "We need to be better with the ball."
Kayla McBride got Notre Dame going early by hitting her first four shots and stopped seventh-ranked Duke's rally late by hitting back-to-back baskets. In between, McBride did a lot of little things right, such as grabbing seven rebounds, handing out four assists and jumping out of the way when Haley Peters, trapped in the corner, tried to get out of trouble by bouncing the ball off of McBride out of bounds, forcing another Duke turnover.
McBride finished with a career-high 31 points to help the Fighting Irish win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in its inaugural season in the league.
"We definitely enjoyed that," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of beating the defending conference champion Blue Devils.
McBride is a huge reason why the Irish (27-0, 14-0 ACC) are still unbeaten.
"Kayla McBride was outstanding again today," McGraw said. "She's had a phenomenal year, but 31 points, she was just amazing. She was unstoppable."
McBride was 6-of-9 shooting in the first half and finished 13-of-25 for the game. The Irish, who never trailed in beating the Blue Devils 88-67 earlier this month, giving the Blue Devils (24-4, 11-3) their first ACC loss at home since 2008, opened a 20-2 lead early on Sunday.
The Irish started the game by making 8-of-13 shots while holding Duke to 1-of-10 shooting with eight turnovers and eventually extended the lead 46-26 on a jumper by McBride with 32 seconds left in the first half.
McBride said the Irish had a lot of energy at the start.
"We were hitting shots. We were getting stops on defense. We were getting in transition," she said. "I think we were just having fun."
Elizabeth Williams, who led Duke with 20, said Duke made too many mistakes at the start.
"We took some bad shots, some quick shots, which fueled their transition," she said. "We just need to learn to be more patient early."
The Blue Devils scored six points in the final 7 seconds of the first half and eventually cut the lead to seven points on a driving layup by Alexis Jones with 11:50 left, but Jones injured her left knee and didn't return. McCallie said losing Jones hurt.
"Notre Dame is a great team. You don't know what would have happened from there. But I guess I wish I could have seen it," McCallie said. "She's an All-American candidate, a super sophomore and obviously we were a different team when she was gone."