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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

ND takes down Western Kentucky in first road matchup

Western Kentucky played No. 6 Notre Dame close. Too close for comfort for much of the first half.

Ultimately though, the Irish (2-0) pulled away in the fourth quarter, giving them the 78-65 victory over the Hilltoppers (1-2).

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw praised the Western Kentucky squad, saying she expects it to go far this season.

“They’re a really good team. I’m really impressed with the job that [head coach] Michelle [Clark-Heard is] doing,” McGraw said. “Really well coached. Their zone gave us a lot of trouble and they are a very good team that’s going to do a lot of damage in the conference.”

Irish junior forward Jessica Shepard led the charge for the Irish, making up 11 of Notre Dame’s 17 first quarter points. The Nebraska transfer eventually tallied a double-double, racking up 19 points and 12 rebounds.

McGraw said the Notre Dame gameplan to send the ball to Shepard in the paint early paid off, however, going forward, she wants to find different ways to integrate all the other facets of Shepard’s game into the Irish offense.

“We started the game really trying to find [Shepard] inside and we were pretty successful, but she’s got some work to do,” McGraw said. “We need to be able to get her the ball more. She’s such a good passer. I want her high and I want her low at the same time, so we just need to find somebody that can get her the ball. Huge difference in our team with her.”

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior guard Arike Ogunbowale takes the ball up court during Notre Dame's 121-65 over Mount Saint Mary's on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale turned on the heat in the second quarter, knocking down a jump shot at the start of the quarter and the first Irish 3-pointer of the evening with 6:22 to play, to break the tie the Hilltoppers had played to, giving the Irish a 24-21 lead they would not relinquish. Ogunbowale, who was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top-30 earlier in the day Tuesday, finished the game with a team-high 21 points.

After coming off a 121-point showing over Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday, McGraw credited a strong Western Kentucky defense with the ability to slow the Irish offense. The Irish nabbed 49 rebounds on the night, only five more than Western Kentucky’s 44.

“I thought the zone really slowed us down. We didn’t rebound,” McGraw said. “They had 17 offensive rebounds at halftime. When you don’t rebound, it’s hard to get out and run, which it what we want to do and we kind of want it to be easy sometimes, so we need a lot more work pushing the ball against the zone.

“I thought we had a lot more opportunities to push the ball inside that we didn’t take, we settled for the three a little too much. And you know, when you go 4-for-22 from the 3-point line, you’re not going to score a lot of points. We scored 78, which will probably be right about our average.” 

Three-point shooting proved problematic for the Irish, as only three players were able to drain buckets from beyond the arc. Aside from Ogunbowale’s tie-breaker, graduate student guard Lili Thompson hit two threes in the fourth quarter to help stretch the Irish lead and junior guard Marina Mabrey hit another in the third quarter for her lone points of the night. Mabrey went 1-for-9 from the field.

McGraw was particularly pleased with the performance of freshman center Mikayla Vaughn, who went 8-for-9 shooting for 17 points and picked up seven rebounds.

“We don’t have a lot of depth. We both played seven and that’s how it’s going to be for us until [senior forward] Kathryn Westbeld gets healthy,” she said. “I was really pleased with Mikayla Vaughn; I thought for a freshman in this environment played really, really well.”

Westbeld, who is still recovering from surgery on her ankle, played 20 minutes against the Hilltoppers, collecting five rebounds and two assists. The senior failed to convert on any of her three shooting attempts from the field, however.

The Irish pulled away from the Hilltoppers in the fourth quarter, shutting them out of the game and sealing the 13-point victory with a pair of free throws from Ogunbowale.

The Irish head to Corvallis, Oregon, to take on No. 18 Oregon State on Sunday at 2 p.m.