Notre Dame Sizzles Into Elite 8
The mourning period for Notre Dame women’s basketball is officially finished.
Stunned on Sunday night when it lost leading scorer, rebounder and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Brianna Turner to an ACL tear, head coach Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish were hardly immersed in self-pity while bouncing back with a dazzling display during a 99-76 rout of No. 11 and Big Ten champion Ohio State (28-7) on Friday Night in the Sweet 16 at Lexington, Ky.
• The 99 points represented the most ever tallied by the Irish in their 78-game NCAA Tournament history (56-22 record).
• Notre Dame (33-3) converted a season high 12 three-pointers — including eight of its first 11 in the first half — while also finishing 19-of-20 from the free-throw line.
When Ohio State extended its defense in the second half to guard the perimeter, Notre Dame’s guard-laden lineup beat them off the dribble, found cutters to the basket and consistently drew fouls that put them on the free throw line, where they were almost flawless.
• Sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale, who missed her first four shots, caught fire with a career high 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-7 beyond the arc, and pulled down nine defensive rebounds.
“I just wanted to be in an attack mode,” the 5-8 Ogunbowale told ESPN after the game. “Bri brings a lot of points, a lot of offense. I tried to get rebounds too, just trying to help fill the space that she left.”
• Six Notre Dame players finished with double-digit scoring, highlighted by the composure and production of freshmen Erin Boley and Jackie Young (see "Rookies Rampage" below).
• Although four of Notre Dame’s top six players are sophomores and freshmen, the veterans provided a steadying hand with double-doubles. Senior point guard Lindsay Allen tallied 16 points and 10 assists to go with three steals, while junior Kathryn Westbeld registered 10 points, 11 rebounds and had her usual excellent high-post passing with six assists.
The two combined for 16 of Notre Dame’s 23 assists, and had only five turnovers between them.
• Defensively, where Notre Dame mixed in some second-half triangle-and-two with its 2-3 zone, it held the nation’s seventh-leading scorer, Kelsey Mitchell, to zero points (0-of-3 shooting) during a decisive third quarter in which the Irish extended their halftime lead from 50-42 to 80-65.
Mitchell, who was averaging 22.7 points per contest and became the fastest player in NCAA history to score 2,000 in her career, had a strong first half with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. However, Notre Dame’s pressure shut her down as she was 1-of-8 from the floor in the second half and finished with 18 total points.
• Although Ohio State had the height advantage and changed the lineup at the start of the second half to go taller, the Irish finished with 12 more rebounds (42-30).
The theme at Notre Dame's practices this week was that without Turner every single player had to do a little bit more to compensate. One more basket. One more rebound. One more assist. One less turnover.
Freshmen Erin Boley and Jackie Young went above and beyond that call— and displayed why they were the Gatorade and Naismith National Players of the Year last season, respectively.
Back in her Ol’ Kentucky Home, the 6-2 Bluegrass native Boley received the starting nod — Westbeld was in the high post and Boley the ‘stretch 4’ — and responded with 14 points and nine rebounds, highlighted by 4-of-6 shooting beyond the arc. Her back-to-back threes in the third quarter were a turning point after Ohio State had narrowed its deficit to four points.
Young, who scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor on Sunday versus Purdue, was perfect from the field (4-of-4) and the foul line (5-of-5) against the Buckeyes, and was a vital defensive component while holding Mitchell in check during the second half. Both went through their share of growing pains in the regular season, but have been reaching prime-time form in the past month.
“We knew they would step up — they were both National Player Of The Year their senior year,” Ogunbowale said. “We knew they had it in them and they showed it today.”
With Ohio State going with a bigger lineup in the second half and more patiently attacking Notre Dame down low, it cut the Irish lead to 55-51 early in the third quarter, forcing McGraw to call a time out.
Out of the break, the Irish perfectly executed a give-and-go with Young feeding Westbeld for a layup. Boley, who McGraw all season has stated is the team’s best shooter, then confidently drilled consecutive threes to build a 63-53 advantage.
At that point, Notre Dame had 11 threes, or more than half of its 63 points. With Ohio State forced to guard the perimeter, the Irish then used dribble penetration and crisp passing on cuts to the basket, with back-to-back buckets by Young and then two free throws by Westbeld giving them their biggest lead at the time (69-55) in the game.
The Buckeyes could never recover from or answer that flurry, while the poised Irish gradually pulled away for the 23-point victory.
News & Notes
• The Elite 8 matchup will be against No. 2 seed Stanford (31-5), the Pac-12 champion and 77-66 winner over No. 3 seed Texas. Tip-off is at noon on Sunday, with ESPN telecasting the showdown. The Cardinal stunned No. 1 seed Notre Dame last year at the same venue in the Sweet 16. Notre Dame defeated Stanford in the Oklahoma City Regional a year earlier.
• Notre Dame began the game with a three-pointer by Marina Mabrey (14 points, 4-of-9 from three), but then missed its next eight shots while falling behind 8-5.
It then went on an astounding shooting spree, converting 13 straight field goals while not missing in a period of nearly 11 minutes. Overall, the Irish converted 17 of their last 24 field-goal attempts (70.8 percent) in the first half, led by Ogunbowale’s 17 points.
• The Irish 17-game winning streak is the second-longest in the nation, behind UConn’s NCAA record 109.
• Notre Dame has now won 19 consecutive games against Big Ten opposition, including 4-0 this year with victories at Iowa (73-58) at Michigan State (79-61), Purdue (88-82 in overtime) and now the league champion Buckeyes. It has not lost to a Big Ten Conference school since March 2009 when Minnesota pulled off the upset in the NCAA Tournament.
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