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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Youth step up in Brianna Turner’s absence as Irish top Buckeyes for Elite Eight spot

LEXINGTON, Ky. — “I’m just so proud of this team right now,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said to begin her press conference after her top-seeded squad defeated No. 5 seed Ohio State 99-76 in Friday’s Sweet 16 game.

Without junior forward Brianna Turner, it was anyone’s guess as to how the Sweet 16 matchup between Notre Dame (33-3, 15-1 ACC) and Ohio State (28-7, 15-1 Big Ten) would play out.

Irish sophomore guard Marina Mabrey shoots the ball during Notre Dame's 99-76 win over Ohio State on Friday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
Irish sophomore guard Marina Mabrey
Irish sophomore guard Marina Mabrey shoots the ball during Notre Dame's 99-76 win over Ohio State on Friday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

This was still the case at the end of the first quarter, as Notre Dame found itself trailing by one point. However, in the second, the Irish began to shine. Sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale opened the scoring for the quarter by knocking down a 3, and the team never looked back.

Ogunbowale, along with sophomore guard Marina Mabrey and freshman forward Erin Boley, combined for 15 points from beyond the 3-point line in the quarter, more than half of the 26 points the Irish scored. The team’s 3-point percentage remained perfect for over seven minutes.

Ogunbowale noted that the constant threat the team poses from beyond the arc forced Ohio State’s hand defensively.

“They had to really honor us because we had about four or five players on the court that could shoot a 3,” Ogunbowale said. “They couldn’t sag off too much or we would get a 3, so they had to really step up to their man.”

Ohio State junior guard Kelsey Mitchell said Notre Dame’s momentum in the second quarter is what sealed the game in Notre Dame’s favor.

“They kept getting possession after possession, and after a while, they got themselves in a rhythm,” Mitchell said. “We couldn’t run them off the 3 like we needed to, especially in the clutch time. Like the second quarter was really important and crucial because it’s when they kind of took it away from us.”

The live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 mentality continued throughout the game, as Ogunbowale, Mabrey and Boley each finished with four good 3-pointers, helping to give Ogunbowale — who shot 50 percent from the field — a career-high 32 points. McGraw said Ogunbowale’s performance was one to be celebrated.

“[Ogunbowale] was fabulous,” McGraw said. “I had to chuckle when someone asked if she felt pressure. That does not — that’s a word she doesn’t know the meaning of. She’s absolutely fearless. I think she was pretty excited when we talked about how we’re going to play from here on out because she’s capable. She sacrifices a lot for the team willingly. It was great for her to just be able to open things up and play her game.”

The Irish scored 30 points in the third quarter, effectively giving them the win. The Irish continued to grow their lead, however, stretching it to 23, the largest margin of the game, by the final buzzer.

Despite missing Turner — who is typically an integral member of the Irish defense — Notre Dame was able to outrebound the Buckeyes by 12, finishing with 42 rebounds on the night, 32 of which were defensive. Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld collected 11 of those, giving her a double-double, her second of the season.

“Kat is the glue to our team,” McGraw said. “She is just somebody we have to have in the game. Eleven rebounds, but she works the high post and the zone offense so well. She works the pick and roll so well. She makes it hard to guard because you have to guard her on the perimeter as well. Just such a smart player. She was hurting a little bit, and she just kept on going.”

Inevitably, the offensive game plan changed for the Irish this week as well with Turner out of the lineup. However, senior guard Lindsay Allen — who picked up her fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 assists — said she and her teammates felt prepared for the matchup.

“There wasn’t a big learning curve because [McGraw] makes sure that we, as the guards, still play our game,” Allen said. “She makes sure that we’re all playing to our strengths. But I think for us, the biggest adjustment was just looking for our shot more and looking for each other. So we’re driving and then making two extra passes and really just playing our game. We’re noticing mismatches more, talking to each other more, and playing more freely.”

Every Notre Dame player who scored a point ended up in double digits by the end of the night, giving Notre Dame six players with that status in Ogunbowale, Mabrey, Boley, Allen, Westbeld and freshman guard Jackie Young.

“[Notre Dame was] certainly the better team today and deserved to win,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said.

With the 99-76 victory, the Irish advance to their eighth Elite Eight appearance, where they will face second-seeded Stanford­ on Sunday.