Notre Dame Advances To Sweet 16
The days of deference have been over for Notre Dame junior guard Jackie Young of late.
The lone non-senior in the individual record-setting starting lineup, Young’s aggressiveness at attacking the basket began to pick up in the final weeks of this season and carried over during the 91-63 Fighting Irish victory on Monday night versus Michigan State to advance to this weekend’s Chicago Regional.
Young flirted with her third triple-double of the season before settling for 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists (along with two blocked shots and a steal). Graduate senior Brianna Turner also produced a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds — enabling her to become the school’s all-time leader in the latter category.
Senior Jessica Shepard nearly recorded a double double as well with 19 points and nine rebounds, while senior guard and all-time Irish scoring leader Arike Ogunbowale, after a slow start, tallied a game high 23 points to go with five assists.
Still, it was Young who provided the consistent all-around excellence on the floor, in the paint or on the perimeter.
“She’s the one that wins them championships … she was the one we worried most about,” said Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant. “Just very, very strong, and can control her body ... I don't know if there is a more veteran team on the planet."
Notre Dame (32-3) will play Texas A&M (26-7) on Saturday in the Windy City, with game time still to be determined after all second round games have been completed.
Although the Irish converted only 4 of 14 shots from the floor to begin the contest they held a 11-6 lead at the first time out with 4:25 left in the first quarter. They finished the quarter converting six of their last nine shots for a 25-14 advantage.
The second quarter saw the Irish shoot more consistently (11 of 19), but the defensive pressure especially helped gain separation. After the Spartans trimmed the deficit to 28-19 on a three with 8:48 remaining until halftime, Notre Dame went on a 19-1 run (including 14-0 at the end), with Michigan State not scoring from the field again until exactly six minutes later on a Sidney Cooks three. Young was the catalyst of that run and finished the first half with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Also facilitating the decisive run was going to a little more man-to-man defense than usual.
“We were a lot more active, a lot more aware of where the shooters were,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “We matched up in man-to-man a couple of times on the fly and I thought they did a good job of being aware of everybody … It was good that we were able to play a little bit of zone but we just had to match up. They were doing some good things offensively."
While building the 52-26 halftime lead, Notre Dame did not convert a single three, but dominated inside with a 32-12 scoring advantage in the paint to go with the 31-17 lead in rebounds. Ogunbowale eventually converted the first Irish three with 3:27 left in the third quarter for a 67-35 cushion.
The onslaught continued through the third quarter, which the Irish led 73-43 after that 10-minute segment. Most of the fourth quarter was played by the No. 2 Notre Dame unit, but for the 10th time during the current 11-game winning streak and rampage the nation’s top scoring team reached at least 90 points (and 89 in the one it didn’t)
Three Point Play
1. Chairwoman Of The Boards
The 11 rebounds by Turner gave her 1,010 in her career, eclipsing the previous school standard of Ruth Riley (1,007), the national player of the year in 2001 while leading Notre Dame to its first national title in the sport. With nine blocks so far in the tourney, she has 359, 12 short of passing Riley for the career lead in that category as well. With 36 more points, she also would join Riley as the lone players in the program’s history who were there all four years to amass at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“Ruth Riley is the most humble person I’ve met my whole, entire life,” Turner praised. “She is so down to earth, she’s so calm, she’s so patient. I remember my freshman year she was in practice with us and I was struggling [against her]. She always used to help me out in practice, defensively, offensively. She always told me I can text her ... Ruth is just such a great player.”
More importantly, Turner emphasized, an even better person, the most significant standard of all.
2. Lurking In The Background
In Saturday’s 92-50 romp over Bethune-Cookman, four of the Irish starters combined for 75 points, while the fifth, senior Marina Mabrey, had zero on 0 of 3 shooting, all from three-point range. Against Michigan State, those same four starters totaled 77 points among them — while Mabrey was 1 of 6 (0 of 4 beyond the arc). It is highly unusual data from the school’s all-time three-point leader (265 converted) who has tallied 1,853 points and never averaged less than double-figure scoring all four of her seasons.
A hyperextended knee in preparation for the NCAA Tournament has limited her practice time, if not totally erased it, and has put her a little out of rhythm, although she has recorded 11 assists. She did practice on Sunday, had no wrap on her knee against Michigan State, and her history tells us she is due for a breakout soon — and when most needed. That brings us to…
3. Aggie History
Notre Dame defeated Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 last year but, like everything else during the magical run, it was a hard fought 90-84 triumph. Ogunbowale (27 points) and Mabrey (25) combined for 52 points — 10-of-16 from three-point range — 14 assists and only four turnovers while helping the Irish rally from a 37-24 first-half deficit.
Mabrey converted a Notre Dame NCAA Tournament record seven treys in 11 attempts, with five of them coming in the first half to prevent the Aggies from gaining too much separation. She also had a then career high nine assists. Mabrey’s seventh and final three put the Irish ahead for good at 54-51 with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter and they led 68-63 entering the fourth quarter.
Led by explosive freshman guard Chennedy Carter (31 points, seven assists) the Aggies came within 68-67 in the opening part of the fourth quarter, but a Mabrey-to-Ogunbowale feed for a lay-in began an 11-3 Irish run that helped put the game away. Carter is back and better than ever, but this time the Irish won’t face inside force Anriel Howard, who had 26 points and 14 rebounds (eight on offense) against the Irish. She transferred to Mississippi State this summer.
Texas A&M defeated Notre Dame in the 2011 national title contest — the ultimate “the one that got away” in McGraw’s career.