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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame dominates inside throughout convincing first-round win over Bethune-Cookman

| Monday, March 25, 2019

The top-seeded Notre Dame opened this weekend’s first round of the NCAA tournament with a convincing win over the No. 16 seed Bethune-Cookman. The Irish (31-3, 14-2 ACC) led the entire game and defeated the Wildcats (21-11, 11-5 MEAC) 92-50.

The Irish were dominant in all facets of the game, earning 25 points off turnovers in comparison to the Wildcats‘ six points. Additionally, the Irish bench outscored their opponents’ 17-9. However, the key to Notre Dame’s success was their interior play, as the tandem of senior and graduate student forwards Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner dominated down low. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw spoke highly of her forwards’ performances.

“I thought we played well,” McGraw said. “I thought our posts did a good job. I thought our advantage was inside, we were able to get the ball inside when we wanted to. [Sophomore forward] Mikayla Vaughn did a great job off the bench, and Jess with a double-double and Bri one rebound away … I thought Briana Turner was fantastic. She saved us inside a number of times [defensively].”

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish senior forward Jessica Shepard dribbles the ball during Notre Dame’s 92-50 win over Bethune-Cookman in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 23.

The Irish outscored Bethune-Cookman in the paint 58-10, grabbed 49 boards and had 20 second-chance points compared to 28 rebounds and three second-chance points for the Wildcats. Notre Dame also blocked seven shots and stole the ball 11 times. Bethune-Cookman head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis commented on how Notre Dame’s bigs posed a problem her team hadn’t experienced before.

“They’re a veteran team,” Blair-Lewis said. “They’re the defending national champions for a reason. Their starting five‘s size was about the size of our starting men’s team’s size. … [With] their size, it was difficult for us to just run our plays, especially with the inside presence it was tough for us to get the ball inside to [senior forward] Chas[immie] Brown, or any of our players. … Their size definitely created a lot of problems for us.

The 6-foot-4 Shepard recorded a double-double, notching 22 points and 13 rebounds, while the 6-foot-3 Turner nearly had a double-double herself, putting up 19 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in the game.

Bethune-Cookman was carried this season by senior guard Angel Golden, who won MEAC player of the year in 2018 and was named to the first team all-conference team this year. Golden led the Wildcats with 19.9 points per game and 52 steals coming into the game.

Freshman Kiana Williams was second on the team with 12.1 points per game, but only played in 12 games this season before a knee injury sidelined her. Similarly, senior Ashanti Hunt, last year’s MEAC defensive player of the year, was also sidelined with an injury after only two games. McGraw commented on how the Wildcats have persevered after a similar year injury-wise to Notre Dame last year.

“What a great job by Bethune-Cookman to come through the year that we had last year, so we can certainly appreciate the adversity they faced, the resilience it took,” McGraw said. “I think they were down to eight players and just gave it all they had, what a remarkable season and just a great job by coach Lewis. So really, really happy that they were here.”

After the game started out competitive, a media timeout in the first quarter gave the Irish a chance to compose themselves and lock in, according to McGraw.

“I think we were having trouble finding the shooters, especially Golden who played very well,” McGraw said. “She’s a great player. We were really trying to emphasize that we had to find her all the time. I thought we just got a little bit careless, had a couple of turnovers that were really careless.”

After that timeout, the Irish made a concerted effort to shut down Golden, knowing that the Wildcats couldn’t survive without her production, and limited her to 3-of-12 3-point shooting in the first half. The Irish defense was so stifling that the Wildcats scored only seven points in the second quarter and got their first basket on a Golden pull-up with 2:49 remaining in the period.

In the second half Golden found her rhythm, going 3-8 from beyond the arc in the final two periods and finishing with a game-high 25 points.  However, her solo effort wasn’t enough as she scored more points than the rest of her teammates combined (24), and the second leading scorer was sophomore guard Amaya Scott with only six points. The Irish, however, continued to pound the ball inside.

In contrast to the Wildcats reliance on Golden, the Irish post players led a balanced attack, with assists coming on 24 of 36 along with and a 54.5 field-goal percentage. Blair-Lewis attested to the difficulty of stopping all of Notre Dame’s weapons, and wished the Irish the best through the rest of the tournament

“All of them are capable of doing a myriad of things, so it’s not like you just have to stop one aspect of their game,” Blair-Lewis said. “We just first want to thank South Bend and Notre Dame. You guys have been first class to us. We’ll never forget this experience, our first journey to the tourney. We’ll never forget how you treated us. … We wish them the best. We wish them to go defend [the championship] again.“

While Bethune-Cookman depended predominantly on a single player, Notre Dame came into the game with all five starters averaging over 13 points per game and a balanced production. Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale led Notre Dame with 23 points while also dishing out four assists, and junior guard Jackie Young had 11 points and four assists. McGraw was especially pleased with Vaughn, who scored nine points and pulled down 11 rebounds off the bench.

“Mikayla did a great job. I thought she was reading the defense,“ McGraw said. ”She had a couple of opportunities where we were running plays for someone else but nobody was guarding her, she took advantage of it. She was active on the boards. Defensively she was talking. I’m just really happy with the way she played on both ends.”

Turner was also happy for Vaughn’s success, even at the expense of her own minutes.

“I was happy to see Mik go in and almost get a double-double,” Turner said. “I think she’s improved so much this season so if I’m on the bench and Mik’s doing what she’s doing, I’m excited.”

Vaughn’s production helped offset senior guard Marina Mabrey’s lack of production, as she was plagued by a hyperextended knee. McGraw said that she was just happy to see Mabrey on the court.

“She hyperextended [her knee] on Monday, and she hadn’t practiced all week, so we were happy yesterday … to get her out there getting some shots up,” McGraw said. “We didn’t know if we would have her today or not. We wanted to give her some minutes and not overdo it too much, so we’ll see how she feels afterwards.”

Despite the injury, Mabrey still recorded a team-high seven assists, and Shepard said she believes everyone on the team is willing to sacrifice their own stats for team success.

”We start three guards that are really good passers as well as scorers and I think they’re willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Shepard said. “The coaches asked them to get the ball inside today and I think they did a great job passing it in.”

Notre Dame will face Michigan State in the second round Monday at 7 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

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