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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame comes back against Texas A&M, advances to Elite Eight

| Saturday, March 24, 2018

SPOKANE, Wash. — A victory after trailing by 13 points in the second quarter to a fourth-seeded Texas A&M team that features the best freshman in the nation, all with only seven available scholarship players, one of whom hasn’t practiced all week, is a pretty improbable comeback.

Right?

“We’ve been down in other games,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We feel like we are poised and can come back.”

Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair was a little more direct about it.

“We knew Notre Dame would come back,” he said.

It did.

And now, the Irish (32-3, 15-1 ACC) will play in their seventh Elite Eight in eight years after defeating Texas A&M (26-10, 11-5 SEC), 90-84.

The Irish started the game on top after a layup from junior forward Jessica Shepard and a 3-pointer from junior guard Marina Mabrey off an inbounds pass and screen from junior guard Arike Ogunbowale. But it wouldn’t be long before they found themselves behind by double-digits.

Elizabeth Greason | The Observer

Irish junior guard Arike Ogunbowale drives past an Aggies defender during Notre Dame’s 90-84 Sweet 16 win on Saturday at Spokane Arena.

A&M tied the game with a 3 from national freshman of the year Chennedy Carter, and the two teams teams traded scores until the Aggies began to take over in the final minutes of the first period. For a little over 4 1/2 minutes, the Irish were dominated in every aspect of the game, as an 18-2 run powered Texas A&M to a 12-point lead.

“I thought we showed a lack of discipline in the first quarter,” McGraw said. “Our shot selection was bad. We didn’t get any rebounds. I think we had one offensive rebound at halftime. We weren’t getting the ball to Jessica Shepard, which was a big part of our game plan, then we couldn’t get any stops. We did a lot of things wrong in the first quarter.”

However, Carter was not the main force behind the run, as Aggies junior forward Anriel Howard scored 13 points in the opening 13 minutes of the game. McGraw said her team was too preoccupied with Carter and was unprepared for the rest of the Aggies.

Though a Mabrey 3 ended the run, Carter added four more points to give the Aggies their largest lead of the game at 13 points 3 1/2 minutes into the second quarter.

Then, it started.

First, Mabrey hit another 3. Next, freshman forward Danielle Patterson added a layup. Then  Ogunbowale, who started the game shooting 1-for-6, added five points and cut the Aggies’ lead to just one score. A layup and a free throw from Carter kept the Aggies ahead at halftime, however.

But the Irish weren’t done. After a first half without a single free-throw attempt, the Irish got to the line to start the quarter via sophomore guard Jackie Young. Young made only one of two foul shots, missing an opportunity to tie the game, but it wasn’t long before McGraw’s squad finished climbing out of the double-digit hole. Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld, playing in the game despite not practicing during the week after injuring her ankle against Cal State Northridge three minutes into the tournament opener, took a charge from Aggies senior guard Jasmine Lumpkin, grabbed a long offensive rebound after Arike Ogunbowale, missed a jumper, passed to Mabrey and then set a screen to allow the junior to tie the game at 49-49 with another 3. McGraw said Westbeld was far from fully-healthy, but her impact on the game is too great to be left out.

“I thought she made a huge impact in the game,” McGraw said. “She hasn’t recovered yet. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to practice this week. She was in the boot. It’s probably not going to get a lot better by Monday’s game.

“But she shows tremendous toughness. We need her in the game because she does so many things for us that don’t show up on the stat sheet. She’s a great facilitator for us with the ball on the high post.”

Ogunbowale helped the Irish extend their lead to seven points, but Carter, who scored seven of her team’s 16 points during the period, kept the Aggies well within reach at 68-63 with a quarter remaining. But with the remainder of the team struggling to score, Blair said his team lost the game during the third period.

“The game was probably lost in the third quarter when we came out, I thought, flat,” Blair said. “We were trying for the perfect play, whatever. They showed the aggression we didn’t show, that we were showing in the first and second quarter.”

Carter cut the Irish lead down to just one point early in the fourth quarter, but Ogunbowale ensured they would not get any closer. After scoring off a pass from Mabrey, she drove down the court again after an outlet pass from Shepard, ignoring Mabrey’s calls for the ball as she drove straight through the Aggies defense to the rim for the layup.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Jackie Young goes up for a layup during Notre Dame’s 90-84 win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at Spokane Arena.

Ninety seconds later, she knocked down a 3 to give the Irish a seven-point lead.

Then, in the final five minutes of play, Young was the Irish player who stepped up and finished the game off. After three fouls limited her first-half minutes, Young scored six points, the first two off an offensive rebound she had grabbed, and added an assist.

“Jackie took over the game, I thought, for a stretch late in the fourth quarter,” McGraw said.

After Carter made one of two free throws to put the game back within one score’s reach, Westbeld scored a jumper from the free-throw line to give the Irish a five-point lead again with a little over a minute left.

“That was the game winner,” McGraw said.

With 43 seconds left, the Aggies still had a chance of coming back without fouling, but after Howard missed a three, they were forced to send Ogunbowale to the line. Howard missed another attempt before scoring a layup in the closing seconds, but it was too late, as the Irish won 90-84 and will advance to the Regional Final.

That matchup will feature top-seeded Notre Dame against second-seeded Oregon. They will square off Monday at 9 p.m.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel