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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish strike in final minutes of Sweet 16 to secure win over Texas A&M

| Monday, April 1, 2019

CHICAGO — With 6:46 remaining in the rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 against Texas A&M, senior guard Arike Ogunbowale reminded everyone in the Wintrust Arena why she became synonymous with clutch in last year’s tournament, having hit buzzer beaters in back-to-back games in the Final Four to clinch the program’s second national title. This time, she bounced off a flair screen just beyond the 3-point line to knock down the shot and put the Irish ahead for good. And the crowd went wild.

Although the top-seeded Irish left Purcell Pavilion behind in the Round of 32, there was no question who held the home-court advantage, as the stands were covered in what Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw described as a “sea of green.”

That crowd would prove crucial as Notre Dame (34-3, 14-2 ACC) struggled to gain separation from the fourth-seeded Aggies (26-8, 12-4 SEC) through three and a half quarters. That is, until Ogunbowale happened.

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale drives past her defender during Notre Dame’s 80-87 win over Texas A&M on Saturday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

The senior guard scored a career-high 34 points, only to be outdone by Texas A&M sophomore guard Chennedy Carter’s 35 points, in what proved to be one of the more memorable matchups in collegiate basketball.

Both teams came out of the gate ready to play, with neither showing signs of intimidation or nerves. Three minutes into the game, Notre Dame held a 4-2 lead, behind a jumper by junior guard Jackie Young and two free throws by graduate student Brianna Turner. Ensuring that lead didn’t get out of hand, Carter hit a deep 3-pointer and a jumper, only to be matched by senior forward Jessica Shepard’s back-to-back two pointers. And thus, the tone for the first half was set.

Throughout the first quarter, both teams went back-and-forth, neither able to gain the upper hand as the Irish closed the quarter 21-18 — the largest lead of the game up to that point.

Shepard and Carter were the driving forces behind their teams’ offenses, scoring 11 and eight points, respectively, in the opening frame.

Just when it looked like Notre Dame could get some distance in the second quarter — following a quick layup by Turner in the opening possession to push the lead to five — Texas A&M came storming back, tying things up at 23. The teams continued to exchange baskets, with Ogunbowale and Shepard leading the Irish on the offensive side. However, with just under four minutes remaining, the Irish offense seemed to go quiet, as they missed three straight shots while the Aggies scored four points and took a three-point lead. Just when momentum seemed to be shifting away from McGraw and co., Marina Mabrey knocked down a shot in the corner to bring her team back even.

Although that would prove to be Mabrey’s only three points of the night, the senior guard made her presence known, dishing out six assists to go along with her six rebounds.

“It’s nice to see the ball go in sometimes,” Mabrey said. “… It seemed to spark the team a bit. So hopefully I can be a spark sometimes and just trying to be that voice behind the whole team, get everybody where they need to be and get them into the offense if I’m not scoring so much.”

Returning from the locker room with the game tied at 42, Notre Dame continued to look for more of that spark, but Texas A&M refused to back down. The Irish stormed to an eight-point lead in the opening two minutes of the half. A jump shot by Carter sparked some momentum for the Aggies to keep things interesting. Despite 12- and 9-point quarter performances by Ogunbowale and Shepard, respectively, and never trailing throughout the quarter, the Irish seemingly couldn‘t shake the Aggies, with Carter’s 12 third-quarter points making it very clear this game was going to come down to point-guard play.

While the first half saw both teams looking to the bigs, the second half saw the guards get more involved offensively.

“Their transition is very good, and also they were able to spread the floor because they can pretty much all shoot it, all the guards can pretty much shoot, so they’re able to spread the floor, break you down,” Texas A&M sophomore center Ciera Johnson said of the various threats the Notre Dame offense posed. “And then the plays they run, they run so many screens, and it’s just hard to defend.”

In the final 10-minute period, Texas A&M sought to seal the upset with four straight points but, ultimately, the fourth frame belonged to the Irish.

“Experience plays a big factor when you get to this point in the tournament. Having been there before … we just have such veteran players who have all played on the big stage,” McGraw said.

Young, who had a relatively quiet night up to this point having not scored a field goal since the opening jumper, knocked down back-to-back jumpers on her way to 10 fourth-quarter points. The junior guard was quickly countered with a layup by senior guard Aja Ellison.

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish junior guard Jackie Young looks to get past her Texas A&M defender during Notre Dame’s 80-87 Sweet 16 win over the Aggies on Saturday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

Tie game, under seven minutes remaining — cue Ogunbowale.

From the top of the key, Shepard swung the ball to a wide-open Ogunbowale on the right wing, recording her sixth assist of the night to go along with her 24 points and 14 rebounds. As the crowd roared to their feet, all signs seemed to indicate this game was Notre Dame’s to lose, despite only claiming a three-point lead. And Ogunbowale struck again.

On the ensuing possession, Carter made a bad pass, allowing Ogunbowale just enough time to strip the ball and take it the back the other way to score a layup in transition. And within the span of 37 seconds, Notre Dame had gone from nearly getting eliminated in the Sweet 16 to essentially punching their ticket to the next round.

Young, Carter and Ogunbowale all traded baskets in the final four minutes as the Notre Dame lead fluctuated between five and eight points. But when crunch time set in, the Irish guards showed no signs of wavering. Young caught the ball along the right wing and dribbled into the lane to sink a free-throw line jump shot. Meanwhile, Carter come up short beyond the arc. Her miss, rebounded by Turner, was converted to a contested layup by Ogunbowale on the other end. Having claimed a nine-point lead with 55 seconds of play left, Ogunbowale seemingly taunted her defender, earning her a technical and sending sophomore guard Kayla Wells to the charity stripe.

“[Ogunbowale] had a little too much passion today,” McGraw said. “I think she got a little exuberant at times. You know, it’s just part of the game. She was excited, she had a big play, it was a big moment — the momentum swing. She did something really well. She was just excited for the moment. I don’t think she meant anything to the other team.”

Ogunbowale echoed McGraw’s thoughts on the call.

“I’m glad we were up by enough that those two free throws didn’t tie it up or something. But I’ve got to be smarter than that,” she said.

Rising tempers were simply a side effect of the physicality of the game, as seemingly every couple of minutes a new player was being slung to the ground on both sides.

“I know the SEC is really physical so I knew coming in they were going to be banging a lot down low but I just wanted to make sure we held our composure and took the hits and went along with it,” Turner said.

Luckily for the Irish, the potentially disastrous situation proved futile. After Wells sunk both free-throw shots and Johnson connected on a layup, the Aggies looked to make up a five-point deficit with 43 seconds left on the game clock. That comeback, however, was too little, too late, as Ogunbowale and Young each made two free-throws to secure the Irish a 80-87 win and the chance to extend their season.

“It’s win or go home. You have to buckle down defensively for 40 minutes. We waited until the second half, then we waited for six minutes left in the game. We kept waiting for the time we were going to defend. I think we can do better,” McGraw said.

The Irish will return to Wintrust Arena Monday at 9 p.m. EST to take on No. 2 Stanford and compete for a place in the Final Four in Tampa, Florida.

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