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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Irish advance to Sweet Sixteen as Turner breaks Notre Dame rebound record

No. 1 Notre Dame continued its early dominance in the NCAA tournament with a 91-63 victory over No. 9 Michigan State to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

The Irish (32-3, 14-2 ACC) controlled play for most of the game thanks to their interior strength, as they outscored the Spartans (21-12, 9-9 Big Ten) 52-34 in the paint.

Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant said the Irish posed a difficult matchup.

“Well, [I’m] obviously disappointed in losing, but give Notre Dame credit,” Merchant said. “I don’t know if there’s a more veteran team on the planet than them. They’re coming off a national championship. Their power is hard to simulate.”

The Irish scored the first points in what was a competitive start to the game. Both teams traded buckets inside and looked to establish a post presence. With the game tied at 8-8, Notre Dame went on a 10-2 run that would see them take command of the game permanently. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she believed her team was able to compose themselves and play to their strengths.

“I think our transition game got going,” McGraw said. “We were rebounding really well. We were able to get out and get in transition. I thought we were looking inside a little bit more. I thought the posts had a little more of an advantage and we didn’t take advantage of it, we were shooting a few too many 3s. So I think we settled into some offense where wanted to get the ball in the paint. … I thought our shot selection got better [and] our defense got better.”

Junior guard Jackie Young was the star of the first quarter, totaling nine points, four rebounds and two assists in the period. Michigan State senior center Jenna Allen, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds in her final collegiate contest, played against Young in high school and noted how much Young has improved since that time.

Irish junior guard Jackie Younglooks to beat her defender during Notre Dame's 91-63 over Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday
Irish junior guard Jackie Young looks to beat her defender during Notre Dame's 91-63 win over Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday.

“In high school I really don’t remember her ever pulling up and shooting the ball a lot, and she does that a lot more now,” Allen said. “And her offensive rebounding, I think, is a piece in her game where she’s really, really improved. Just all around a great player.”

The second quarter played out similarly to the first as the Irish outscored the Spartans 27-12 and took a 52-26 lead at halftime. Young and Shepard continued their stellar play as senior guard Arike Ogunbowale shrugged off a cold-shooting first quarter and scored 11 of her 13 first-half and game-high 23 points in the period. At one point, the Irish went on a 19-1 run in the frame, forcing a Spartan timeout that did little to slow Notre Dame’s momentum. McGraw credited Young with sparking the Irish during their runs in the first half.

“She’s so important to our team in everything that she does,” McGraw said. “She got us off to a great start, immediately rebounded, almost had a double-double at halftime. She’s just an unbelievable player.”

Merchant echoed McGraw’s thoughts on Young.

“She’s the one that wins them championships,” Merchant said. “Her ability to score the ball now in so many ways — she has a nose for the ball, she’s a great defender, she can run in transition, she can hit a pullup, she’s shooting 3s. I know she doesn’t shoot 3s a lot, but when she shoots them, she makes them. You cannot keep her off the boards. … She’s very efficient and very unselfish, too, and I think that’s what makes them click.”

Young finished the game with 21 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, but the focus fell on graduate student forward Brianna Turner, as she grabbed 11 rebounds on the night and broke Notre Dame great Ruth Riley’s rebounding record. Turner said Riley has been somewhat of a mentor to her and she is honored to be listed with her in Notre Dame history.

“Ruth Riley is the most humble person I’ve met my whole entire life,” Turner said. “She’s so down-to-earth, she’s so calm, she’s so patient. I remember my freshman year she used to practice with us, and I was struggling, but she used to always help me out at practice. … I didn’t even know I was close to [her record] until the other day. Ruth’s such a great player, I’m so excited to be in the record books with her.”

The second half was more contested, as Notre Dame only won the third and fourth quarters by a combined two points, but by the fourth quarter, the Irish reserves were in to finish out the game. However, the starters stayed involved as they cheered their teammates on and celebrated them scoring. Ogunbowale said she and her fellow veterans want the next iteration of players to build experience and confidence.

“We just want everybody out there to score,” Ogunbowale said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors right now, so they don’t get to play a lot, but they’re going to be really important next year for the team. When they get out there and are able to score and shoot, we cheer and get excited anytime they get a chance to shoot.”

Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale surveys the floor during Notre Dame's 91-63 win over Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday.

The only possible negative of the game for Notre Dame was their 4-of-13 mark from behind the arc, and the fact they didn’t hit one until Ogunbowale broke the slump in the third quarter. Part of that is attributable to a slump from senior guard Marina Mabrey, who finished with 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting and 0-for-4 from deep after a scoreless outing last game. McGraw said Mabrey’s recent knee injury has temporarily hindered her, but was optimistic about her play in other areas.

“Marina’s the type of player that she needs to be in the gym every day — she wants to be in the gym every day — so for her to take two weeks off was really hard for her,” McGraw said. “She’s almost a little impatient. So she wanted to be back out there … but she hasn’t really gotten her wind back yet. I think she did a great job in the second half. She had four or five assists. She’s just trying to find her way again, and we’re doing so well around her that she doesn’t have to score as much.”

Overall, Ogunbowale said the senior class was just happy to play such a great game for their final home outing.

“To win in that fashion, and for the seniors our last home game here, the last home game of the season, I think that’s really nice, especially going into Chicago,” Ogunbowale said.

Turner expressed her gratitude to Notre Dame’s fan base.

“I think it was very exciting to have our last home game here,” she said. “I mean, we have the best fans in the country … so we know they’re going to all travel there and we’re gonna see a sea of green in the stands. They’ve just been so consistent supporting us, and it’s been really exciting playing here.”

Notre Dame will face No. 4 Texas A&M (26-7, 12-4 SCC) Saturday in the Sweet Sixteen in the Chicago regional semifinal. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m at Wintrust Arena, and the game will air on ESPN2.