ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame wins 23rd straight season opener
Daniel O'Boyle | Monday, November 13, 2017
Four seconds into the 2017-18 season, No. 6 Notre Dame already had its first lead. It was one the Irish (1-0) would never relinquish, as the team led for the remaining 39:56, putting in a dominant offensive performance and defeating Mount Saint Mary’s 121-65 in their season opener at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday.
One hundred twenty-one points marked the most for the Irish in a non-exhibition game since Dec. 31, 2012, when the Irish scored 128 points in a victory over St. Francis (PA), while the win was the 23rd consecutive victory in a season-opener for Notre Dame.
With All-American forward Brianna Turner out for the season, sophomore guard Jackie Young handled the tip-off duties, but it did not hamper the opening sequence for the Irish, as junior guard Arike Ogunbowale scored a layup almost instantly on the game’s opening possession.
Junior forward Jessica Shepard scored her first points of her Irish career after transferring from Nebraska less than 30 seconds later. Shepard’s status this season had been in doubt for much of the offseason, as she was originally expected to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. However, her waiver for immediate eligibility was approved just hours before the team’s exhibition game against IUP on Nov. 1 and in the regular season-opener, with more time to prepare, she made an immediate impact. In the opening six-and-a-half minutes of the game, Shepard scored 11 points on 5-6 shooting, while adding six rebounds.
“I was really pleased with Jessica,” McGraw said. “I thought she took advantage of her size inside and did a good job.”
The Irish led 33-17 after one quarter, but the Mountaineers (0-1) closed the gap early in the second quarter. The Mountaineers made four-of-four three-pointers in four minutes to bring the score back to within single-digits at 40-31 with just under six minutes remaining in the half, but then the Irish took over. The Irish extended the lead to 45-33, before going on an 11-0 run in just over two minutes to ensure Notre Dame led by more than 20, and by halftime the lead had ballooned to 61-35.
The Irish offense did not lead off in the second half, although the team continued to give up points to the Mountaineers on the other end, with the team reaching 49 points midway through the third quarter. McGraw said she felt that while her team was scoring well, the defensive performance showed plenty of room for improvement.
“I was disappointed with our team on defense,” McGraw said. “I think we can be much better there. I think we can bring a little more intensity and I think we can play better team defense. I think we can communicate better. I think we can do a lot of things better. We can do a lot of things better there.”
Although the Mountaineers kept pace with the Irish offense for much of the quarter, the final minutes saw the Irish lead extend further, reaching 40 points at the end of the period at 93-53.
In the fourth quarter, Irish walk-ons junior forward Maureen Butler and sophomore guard Kaitlin Cole both saw action and each added to the Irish scoring, as Cole finished with five points and Butler with three. Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale also reached a personal milestone, scoring her 1000th point on a third-quarter layup on her way to a team-leading 21 points on the day, in addition to seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“A thousand points in the first game of her junior year, that’s an amazing accomplishment,” McGraw said. “When you look at all the great players that have been here, not many have done it that early. She’s such an electric player offensively, it’s really fun to watch. She’ll just continue to light up the scoreboard for the next two years.”
Shepard finished the game with a double-double, scoring 18 points and collecting 11 boards, while junior guard Marina Mabrey scored 18 points as well, shooting 3-5 from three-point range. The Irish outrebounded the Mountaineers 50-27, and every Notre Dame player scored at least three points, with the team making 6-of-12 threes. Twenty-five Irish baskets were assisted, while the team only turned the ball over nine times, which was something McGraw said she was especially pleased with.
“I was really happy with the assist-to-turnover ratio,” McGraw said. “Twenty-six-to-9 — I thought we’d been struggling to take care of the ball in practice, so it was really good to see those numbers. Nobody had a bad day passing the ball. I was really happy to see that. We did some good things on offense.”
The Irish will begin an extended road stand this week as they play Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Kentucky, followed by five more games away from Purcell Pavilion before the the Irish take on rivals Connecticut on the road. The game against the Hilltoppers will begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday.