Irish wrap up regular season with victory over No. 21 North Carolina State
Charlie Ortega Guifarro | Monday, February 26, 2018
Notre Dame’s No. 5 ranked women’s basketball team wrapped up regular season play with a dominant 86-67 win over No. 21 North Carolina State. The Irish (27-2, 15-1 ACC) used a big second half to seal the deal against the Wolfpack (22-7, 11-5 ACC) and clinch a share of the ACC regular season championship with Louisville (29-2, 15-1 ACC).
The Irish were led by sophomore guard Jackie Young, who got rid of her protective mask in the first quarter — after having worn it for more than a month. Young played all but three minutes of the game, leading all scorers with 22 points on an efficient 8-11 shooting, logging in six rebounds and five assists in the process.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said Young had been cleared to play without the mask but the guard had decided to wear it.
“[Young] was actually allowed to play without it — starting today — and she said that she was going to wear it anyway,” McGraw said. “I didn’t actually notice when it came off but, she played pretty well so I think she likes playing without it.”
The game started off with the Irish missing their first four shots. The game would finally open scoring with a 3-pointer by N.C. State with 8:26 left in the first quarter, this would be the largest lead of the afternoon for the Wolfpack.
The Irish would go on a 7-0 run before finding themselves down 8-7 with 5:35 left in the first quarter. With just under three minutes to go in the first period, N.C. State would take the lead 12-11 — the last Wolfpack lead of the game. Both teams couldn’t garner momentum as the Irish led 17-16 after 10 minutes.
The Irish got off to a hot start in the second quarter, jumping to a 25-17 lead with 7:24 left in the half after scores by four different Irish starters. The Irish guard duo of junior guard Arike Ogunbowale and Young would score 16 of the team’s 22 points in the second quarter — and would combine for 43 points in the game. Ogunbowale hit a jumper with 3:25 to give the Irish a 35-22 lead and their largest lead of the half. The Wolfpack responded with a quick 7-2 run but, after one half, Notre Dame led N.C. State 39-31.
Notre Dame would start the second half a bit slow, allowing the Wolfpack to cut the lead 45-43 with a tad over six minutes left to play in the third quarter. The Irish responded with a game-sealing 21-6 run to end the quarter, started by an Ogunbowale 3-pointer and capped off the same way. Irish junior guard Marina Mabrey put up a fast break 3-pointer that surprised McGraw, who commented on the run and emphasized the defense executed by her team.
“I think we made some big plays defensively, we rebounded, we got deflections, we got steals, we got the [fast-break] going, we had a lot of transition opportunities with the ball screen that were very effective for us, and then Marina pulling up for three on the break — which was a little unexpected but, it worked,” McGraw said. “I thought [Jackie Young], [Arike Ogunbowale] and [Marina Mabrey] just came to play, they were not going to be denied another championship.”
After three quarters, the game was 66-49 in favor of the Irish. The last quarter saw continued Notre Dame dominance.
Irish freshman forward Danielle Patterson scored four of the Irish’s six bench points and logged in 12 total minutes. McGraw said it was important to give Patterson playing time, especially with the postseason just days away.
“It’s good to see Danielle Patterson get some really quality minutes because we’re going to need her in the tournament,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re going to play three days in a row and if we are, we got to really be able to sustain our intensity, it’s going to be a lot.”
With this being the last regular season game at home, Sunday also marked Senior Day for the Irish. Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld and graduate student forward Kristina Nelson were the only graduating players able to play but guard Mychal Johnson and forward Brianna Turner — both seniors — were also among those graduating this year. Westbeld scored 16 points on 8-9 shooting and Nelson racked up six rebounds and four assists. McGraw said she was excited with the ability to send off Westbeld and Nelson as ACC regular season champions once again.
“I’ll play every day of Senior Day if Kathryn Westbeld comes out and plays like [today],” she said. “She was unbelievable, just a great game by [Westbeld]. So happy for our seniors — [Westbeld] and [Kristina Nelson] — to send them off with yet, another championship.”
Despite all the setbacks in the season — losing four players to ACL injuries and a loss to Louisville — the Irish managed to finish top-5 in the regular season rankings. McGraw was tearful in the postgame press conference because of her team’s ability to play excellent throughout the season.
“I’m just so proud of this team and what they’ve overcome,” McGraw said. “We kept losing people throughout the year, we never put our heads down — never felt sorry for ourselves — [the team] just came back to work every single day. [The players] stepped up, individually and as a team. They handled the adversity – that’s the kind of thing that we want to teach them.
“That’s what sports does for you, it teaches you a lot of life lessons and handling adversity is definitely one of them,” she added. “I couldn’t be prouder of any team, this was definitely the most rewarding championship I think we’ve had … To come in without so many players and to be regular season champs again, it’s a really emotional moment for me.”
The Irish will start their ACC championship run Friday in the quarterfinal round.