ND Women’s Basketball
Young, Irish clinch ACC title with 20-point win over Louisville
With a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on the line, No. 4 Notre Dame left no doubt in anyone’s mind who would be claiming that position from the ACC after besting No. 3 Louisville 99-79 and clinching the ACC Championship on Sunday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Well, we came in with a goal of bringing the trophy back to South Bend, and I thought we played really well in every game in the tournament,” head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Offensively especially, just a lot of different weapons, a lot of people scoring … I thought we were really steady on offense and definitely came ready today. I thought that was a huge win for us and probably gets us to play in Chicago, which was another one of our goals. So, we’re thrilled with where we are right now.”
Led by ACC tournament MVP junior guard Jackie Young in a rematch of last year’s conference championship, Notre Dame ensured history did not repeat itself after falling 74-72 last year behind Louisville senior guard Asia Durr’s 17 points.
This time, the Irish (30-3, 14-2 ACC) got to work immediately following the noon tip off, dropping 27 points in the opening frame. Despite initial back and forth, the top-seeded team started to distance themselves from the Cardinals (29-3, 14-2 ACC), building an 11-point lead behind an 8-0 run sparked by a Jessica Shepard layup, with four different players contributing. The senior forward had an impressive first half, scoring 13 points — nine of which came in the first quarter — to go along with her six rebounds. Although the Cardinals tried to find their groove, the Irish maintained their distance, finishing the first 10 minutes up 27-17.
Notre Dame continued to set the pace, as senior guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead to 12. However, Louisville quickly reminded everyone in the Greensboro Coliseum why it was the third-ranked team in the country, as the Cardinals went on a 7-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to five. With the remaining five minutes of the half, both teams struggled to make their move, but the Irish closed the half up nine.
Despite shooting nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc, Mabrey’s and Ogunbowale’s 3-pointers were the only long-range shots made on four attempts in the first half for the Irish. Notre Dame instead elected to focus its offensive efforts on the block and mid-range jumpers, taking 15 more field-goal attempts than Louisville.
Returning to the court after halftime, Notre Dame continued to look to the posts on offense as they built themselves a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter. This run was led by graduate student forward Brianna Turner’s eight points, as the Cardinals couldn’t seem to find a response to her or Shepard.
“I think we really took advantage of how they were guarding us,” Turner said. “A lot of times they went four guards, so we knew someone was gonna have a mismatch. And also, just Jackie taking the ball full court, going for easy layups. So, I think we really executed and took what the other team gave us.”
“Coming into the game we knew that we had a mismatch,” Shepard said. “So, I think the guards just did a great job of passing the ball inside. I mean, I can think of all of them making a great pass in and then obviously getting to play with a player like Bri makes it really easy … So, it’s just been a lot of fun this season.”
From that point on, the game was all Notre Dame. With the exception of a rare glimpse of a comeback by Louisville, Notre Dame remained in control, closing the third quarter up 17 following a putback layup by forward Mikayla Vaughn as time expired. The sophomore reserve was the only bench player to get on the board, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in her 11 minutes of play.
After a brief scare in which the Cardinals cut the lead to 14 just a minute into the final frame, the Irish went on a 4-18 run, with all five starters contributing to seal the deal. With just over a minute and half standing between Notre Dame and its fifth ACC championship in six seasons, head coach Muffet McGraw subbed out the starting five, all but one of which — Young — will be graduating in May.
Young, who has earned herself the reputation of the renaissance woman of the team as the first player in program history to record two triple-doubles in a season, lived up to the hype against the Cardinals as she and Shepard each recorded a double-double. The 21-point, 10-rebound performance was the tenth double-double of the season for Young.
“I’m just really willing to do whatever it takes to help our team win and whether that’s guarding the best player on the other team, rebounding, scoring, passing, whatever that is I’m willing to do it,” Young said. “For this tournament, I think I was just looking to attack early so that I could get my teammates open and look for Marina, Arike on the [3-point line] and then have passes for Jess and Bri on the inside … I’m scoring, they’re going to guard me a little bit tighter so then I’m able to a dish the ball.”
Young and Shepard both earned First Team All-Tournament selections for their performances throughout the week, with Young being named Tournament MVP. Meanwhile, Ogunbowale was named to the Second Team All-Tournament team after averaging nearly 17 points through three games.
As the clock wound down, the 20-point victory all but cemented Notre Dame’s top seed on the road to the 2019 national championship in Tampa, Florida. The opening round of play will begin this Friday.
“Well, you know, when you beat ranked teams by as much as we did this weekend, I think it really sends a great message,” McGraw said. “We want to try to set a tone, but it’s a new season. Everybody’s undefeated. We gotta take care of business every single game. So, I’m glad we sent a good message. We can enjoy a couple of days off and then get ready to get back to work.”