ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame downs South Carolina to claim Gulf Coast Showcase title
Elizabeth Greason | Tuesday, November 28, 2017
No. 3 Notre Dame’s seven-game road trip is officially in full swing, as the Irish emerged victorious at the Gulf Coast Showcase after coming out on top in the tournament’s finale Sunday, which featured a marquee matchup against reigning national champion South Carolina.
The Irish (6-0) began their trip to the final against East Tennessee State University (ETSU) on Friday. On paper, the Irish dominated the game. However, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was not pleased with her squad’s performance against the Bucanneers (4-4).
“I thought we were bad,” McGraw said Friday. “Passing was just abysmal, we shot poorly from the 3-point line, everything, I thought was bad. I thought [junior guard] Arike [Ogunbowale] played well, I thought [sophomore guard] Jackie Young gave us a lift a lot of the time. [Junior forward Jessica Shepard] rebounded, but overall, just a really poor performance.”
McGraw was not exaggerating when speaking about her team’s play from beyond the arc — the Irish went 1-for-15 from behind the 3-point line, with the lone success coming from Ogunbowale to put Notre Dame up by 15 with 51 seconds remaining in the first half.
Shepard and Ogunbowale led the way for the Irish offensively and defensively, as each recorded a double-double in the 77-46 win for Notre Dame. Shepard tallied a team-high 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Ogunbowale followed with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
McGraw said the Buccanneers’ employment of a zone defense helped stifle the Irish offense.
“We saw a lot of zone against Western Kentucky, and we shot poorly in that game as well,” she said Friday. “I think we just have to be smarter. We have to be able to pass the ball, and we’re not great passers. Ball fakes, fundamentals. Really the basics, we’ve got to get a lot better.”
Despite shooting just over 42 percent for the game, the Irish were able to lead throughout the game and pull out a win and advance to face No. 17 South Florida (USF) on Saturday.
Once again, Notre Dame never trailed, as it charged to a 76-66 win over the Bulls (6-1). However, it was no one in an Irish roster who was the star of the contest. Instead, Bulls junior guard Kitija Laksa stole the show, as she singlehandedly scored 36 points, accounting for more than half of USF’s total offense.
“Honestly, the first half was about as well as we played all year except for our defense on Laksa,” McGraw said after the game Saturday. “She was phenomenal. We had no answer for her. I thought Jackie was going to be able to shut her down, but we didn’t have any help. We didn’t play great team defense. But other than that, I thought we played pretty well.”
However, Young and Ogunbowale also tallied significant point totals on the other side of the court, picking up 23 and 21 points, respectively. The Irish also improved their 3-point shooting slightly in the matchup, going 3-for-11 from beyond the arc, with Ogunbowale accounting for two of those 3-pointers and junior guard Marina Mabrey coming up with the third.
After turning the ball over 24 times against the Buccaneers, McGraw said eliminating the turnovers against the Bulls was a major focus in the limited practice time her team had between the two games, as Notre Dame cut the turnovers to 12 against USF.
“Turnovers. We cut them in half. I thought that was great,” McGraw said Saturday. “I was really happy with our execution. You know, we got shots. We didn’t make them all, but I thought we got shots.”
With their win over the Bulls, the Irish advanced to the showcase’s final, facing off against the defending national champions in the then-No. 3 Gamecocks (6-1), something McGraw said before the game she was looking forward to.
“We play a lot of good teams, we’ve already played two ranked teams,” McGraw said. “But it’s great to be able to challenge ourselves against [senior forward A’ja Wilson] … and a great, great South Carolina team.”
The Irish fell behind quickly in the first quarter, as the Gamecocks jumped out to a 28-18 lead by the end of the first quarter after opening the game with an 8-0 run.
However, the Irish battled back, going on a 17-5 run midway through the second quarter, culminating in a 3-pointer by Mabrey to send the Irish into halftime with a 41-38 lead. The Irish continued to build on their lead after the half and did not relinquish it for the rest of the game.
The Irish built up a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Gamecocks, led by Wilson, were able to trim the deficit to as slim as five points in the game’s final minutes. However, Notre Dame held on to take down its highest-ranked opponent so far this season, 92-85.
Young led the way once again, finishing with her first career double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Ogunbowale scored a team-high 23 points and snagged seven rebounds, while Shepard pitched in 10 points and five rebounds. Young was named the Gulf Coast Showcase Most Valuable Player, and Ogunbowale earned a spot on the all-tournament team. Young was also named the ACC Player of the Week on Monday.
The Irish will continue their road trip on Wednesday when they take on No. 22 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at 6 p.m.