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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame offense shines in blowout win

Giving up 26 unanswered points to start a game typically proves difficult to bounce back from. Valparaiso learned this the hard way Sunday, as No. 1 Notre Dame continued its undefeated season by putting away the Crusaders, 114-54.

The Irish (8-0) began the day by recognizing associate head coach and former player Niele Ivey, as she was inducted into the Ring of Honor above the court. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she and her team were thrilled that Ivey received the distinction, although the induction made it difficult for the Irish to focus during the first few plays of the game.

“I thought it was an emotional start to the day,” McGraw said. “I’m just so, so proud of Niele and what she’s done for us, and I’m so happy that she was inducted into the Ring of Honor today, but it definitely — I think the emotion, you saw that in the first couple of possessions, but I thought we settled in.”

However, once that settling in McGraw mentioned began to happen, the Irish did not look back. The Crusaders (4-4) failed to put a single point on the board until the Irish held a 26-0 lead with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. Valparaiso head coach Tracey Dorow attributed her team’s poor start to Notre Dame’s ability to overpower the Crusaders defensively.

“They came out, just, on a mission, and they put us on our heels early and dominated that whole first half, especially in the first quarter,” Dorow said. “I know they scored more in the second quarter, but a lot of that was just us being on our heels, and they put us there. I give them a lot of credit for their defensive pressure and the way they really attacked us and our young kids, and we didn’t respond to it very well.”

McGraw said she was pleased with her team’s ability to put points on the board from the beginning.

“[Senior guard] Lindsay Allen, I thought, was spectacular today and did a great job, as well as [sophomore guard] Arike [Ogunbowale],” McGraw said. “ ... But good to see the freshmen getting some minutes, and for [freshman guard] Jackie Young today, the offensive output that I think people were used to seeing in high school and I think she’s more than capable of doing on a daily basis, I think, for us. … It was good. I think that when the other team plays zone and didn’t press that we can really work some different people at the point, and we were able to give [Allen] a pretty good rest today, which I think she needed.”

Irish freshman guard Jackie Young defends the opposing ballhandler during Notre Dame’s 114-54 win over Valparaiso on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Young led the Irish in points and steals in the victory.
Irish freshman guard Jackie Young defends the opposing ballhandler during Notre Dame’s 114-54 win over Valparaiso on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Young led the Irish in points and steals in the victory.

Young led the Irish both offensively and defensively against the Crusaders from the moment she stepped on the court midway through the first quarter. Young scored 20 points — only missing one shot, which came from beyond the 3-point line — and tallied six steals and three assists. She refused to bask in the glory of a career-high game, however, and said she is already focused on how she can improve.

“I mean, I shot well, but I have a lot to work on,” Young said. “Just understanding the defense a little bit more and I think I’ll get more comfortable.”

Including Young, six different Irish players ended the game in double digits: Ogunbowale scored 18, sophomore guard Marina Mabrey had 16, freshman forward Erin Boley added 15, junior forward Brianna Turner scored 13 and junior forward Kathryn Westbeld finished with 10. McGraw was particularly happy with Boley’s performance, as she said the freshman is settling into the Irish offense.

“Getting comfortable, I think, was big for [Boley],” McGraw said. “She’s a great shooter. She shoots it well at practice. I think just getting in the game long enough to feel comfortable [was good for her]. I think, early on, she wasn’t getting in the game for very long stretches, so we’re trying to give her a little bit longer when she’s on the floor. Just time to get ready [and] to get comfortable, and I think she’ll respond well.”

The Irish offense slowed in the second half, however. After leading 72-23 at halftime, Notre Dame scored 27 and 15 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. The Crusaders continued to struggle to keep their turnovers down, however, as they amassed 31 by the final buzzer.

After falling by 60 points, Dorow had nothing but praise for the Irish and feels that now that the Crusaders know where the bar has been set on a national level, they can do their best to reach for that bar going forward.

“In the second half, I think we did a better job. I know they were working on some of their zone things and things like that, but I feel like Coach McGraw is very classy and handled the whole game with a lot of class,” Dorow said. “They could have run the score up on us, and I don’t think they did.

“ ... These are young women that are the same level. They’re NCAA Division I basketball players, and [Notre Dame is] setting the bar right now. I mean, obviously, UConn has set the bar for years, and it’s nice to see somebody else, especially Notre Dame — I mean, in-state, we like that. It’s nice to see them setting the bar so high and doing the things they need to do to be a better ball club, and now we know that we have to match that kind of speed and physicality and things. And it should help us in preparing for our future opponents as far as getting into practices and being able to play at the next level.”

While the 114 points Notre Dame scored marked the fourth-highest point total in school history, McGraw said she was not gunning for the record.

“We just want to get 88 points [to earn burger coupons for fans in attendance],” McGraw joked. “We just want to keep the fans happy. That’s it.”

The Irish will next take the court Wednesday when they host No. 2 Connecticut at Purcell Pavilion. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.