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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish top Huskies to win WNIT

| Monday, November 21, 2016

Behind the momentum of two early runs in the first quarter, No. 1 Notre Dame topped No. 17 Washington, 71-60, to capture the Preseason WNIT title.

The Irish (4-0) both started and ended the game’s opening frame on momentum-shifting runs, starting the first quarter’s play on a 10-0 run and ending it on a 9-0 run, to take a 25-8 lead into the game’s last three periods. It was a lead the Irish would not relinquish, as the Huskies (3-1) would never get closer than within nine points of Notre Dame the rest of the way.

“That 25-8 start was a big punch in the mouth,” Huskies head coach Mike Neighbors said of the game’s first quarter. “ … The environment here is tremendous; we’re not used to playing in front of 8,100 people, so that had a lot to do with it I think — just our communication and ability to communicate.”

Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale shoots a free throw during Notre Dame's 71-60 victory over Washington on Sunday afternoon.Allison Culver

Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale shoots a free throw during Notre Dame’s 71-60 victory over Washington on Sunday afternoon.

It was sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale who sparked the Irish offense early and delivered the bulk of that punch, as she was responsible for 13 of Notre Dame’s first 16 points with nine points scored and two assists that led to easy layups for sophomore guard Marina Mabrey and junior forward Kathryn Westbeld. She would finish the game with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals, and Irish head coach Muffet McGraw felt her play — which helped earn the sophomore the distinction of tournament MVP — was key to the victory.

“I though we got off to a great start,” McGraw said. “I thought that was the key to the game. I mean, we just came out really firing — Arike was on, and she really got good shots. I thought her shot selection was particularly good today.”

The second quarter ended with the Irish ahead by the same margin as they were in the first, as they and the Huskies traded several small runs. Neither team was able to get much going offensively in the quarter, however, as Notre Dame shot just 6-of-18 from the field in the period, while Washington shot an even worse 4-of-15 mark — including a field-goal drought lasting 3:06 to end the period — to give the Irish a 39-22 lead at the half.

The second half followed a similar script to the second quarter; both teams would continue to trade baskets, but the Irish lead would largely remain in double digits throughout the rest of the contest. Westbeld led the scoring for Notre Dame in the third period, as she hit two 3s and put up 10 points to help the Irish maintain a 57-43 lead heading into the fourth.

“Kathryn took over the game for a stretch in the third quarter,” McGraw said. “[Irish junior forward Brianna Turner] is out with fouls, we were struggling a little bit to find some kind of a rhythm and I though she just took over the game. … She really, I thought, played her best game of the season.”

And although the Huskies would shrink the lead to as little as nine, a dry spell of 4:57 would keep them from bringing it any closer than that, as the Irish ultimately closed out the game. A large part of that was Notre Dame’s defense, which forced 17 Washington turnovers and held the Huskies to a 37-percent clip from the field. In particular, the Irish slowed down Huskies All-American senior guard Kelsey Plum, who entered the contest averaging 30 points per game. Plum was held to just 7-of-19 shooting, well below her season average of 53 percent from the field.

“Really pleased with our defense on Plum,” McGraw said. “I mean, she got [22 points], but she’s averaging 30, so I was happy we held her below her average.”

“That defensive performance from their entire team was the best I’ve seen since Syracuse in [last season’s] Final Four,” Plum said. “They sat on my left hand the entire game. They made me take step-back and fadeaway jump shots, and I didn’t knock as many down as I should’ve. So I just have to credit them.”

Following four straight home games and a preseason tournament title, the Irish will now play their first game away from Purcell Pavilion this season the next time they take the court. They will travel to Houston on Tuesday and take on Louisiana-Lafayette. Tip-off at the Campbell Center is set for 8 p.m.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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