PITTSBURGH — Jessica Shepard had one of her best games for Notre Dame, racking up her 26th career double-double.
To hear her tell it, she could have done more.
Shepard scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help No. 5 Notre Dame to a 87-53 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
“I definitely could have finished better and rebounded harder, probably, in the first half,” she said.
Despite her misgivings, Shepard was almost unstoppable in the paint for the Fighting Irish, who outscored Pitt, 48-18 inside. At 6-foot-4, Shepard is three inches taller than every Pitt regular and she used her height and reach to go over and around the Panthers. She made 10 of 18 from the floor and hit 8 of 9 at the the free-throw line.
“Jessica Shepard just picked us apart,” Pitt head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “They, right off the bat, exploited the mismatches inside defensively.”
Notre Dame (19-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) also got a 21-point performance from junior guard Marina Mabrey. Mabrey shot 9 of 15, including three 3s to stretch Pitt’s defense and keep the Panthers honest.
“The high-low was working for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We were really looking for each other from the high post and in and I thought the guards did a good job of looking in.”
Yacine Diop scored 10 points for Pitt (9-12, 1-7). She’s cracked double figures in six of her last seven games.
The Panthers had an early 7-4 lead before Notre Dame roared back to take a 20-11 advantage by the end of the first quarter and finished each successive frame with a similar margin.
Pitt defended well in the first quarter, holding Notre Dame to 39 percent (7 of 18) from the floor, but the Panthers fared even worse, shooting 5 of 14 and 0 for 5 from 3-point range.
“I’m not sure that the outcome is much different, but at least if we’re hitting shots, we play with a little bit more confidence and a little bit more energy,” McConnell-Serio said.
Notre Dame: The Irish have been playing with just seven scholarship players since early January, when Lili Thompson became the third Notre Dame player to be lost for the season to a knee injury. With the Irish putting a team away early for the second consecutive game, head coach Muffet McGraw was able to rest some of her regulars down the stretch. Her three walk-ons all saw action for the second straight game.
“It was nice to be able to play the bench,” McGraw said. “It gives them some reward because they’re working hard in practice, too.”
Pitt: The Panthers are grinding through the toughest part of their ACC schedule. They’re in stretch where they will play 4 teams currently ranked in the Top 25 in a span of 14 days. Pitt has lost 20 straight games against ranked opponents dating back to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Notre Dame: Visits No. 8 Florida State on Sunday. Both of Notre Dame’s losses this season have come against Top 10 teams on the road, losing to UConn on Dec. 3 and at Louisville Jan. 11.
Pitt: Will host No. 18 Duke on Sunday. The Panthers are 8-5 at home this season, but have lost three of their last four at the Petersen Events Center.