The curtain rose on the the semifinal game in Tampa Bay. #2 seed UConn and #1 seed Notre Dame were set to get down to business and settle old scores. UConn wanted to avenge their loss last year in the semifinal in Columbus. ND wanted to avenge their loss at home in December. Their was a big deal made when UConn came into ND and beat ND in December. The lesson learned from December was team composure. Despite being baited into a few situations and some foul trouble, cooler heads prevailed and the Irish came out with an 81-76 victory over UConn. We have said continuously through the season, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Your Fightin’ Irish did just that when the curtain closed on Friday night.
The quarter opened with a missed lay up by Brianna Turner, Jackie Young cleaning the glass and getting the ball back into Turner for two points in the paint. Again a lid appeared to be over the bucket on the Notre Dame offensive end. A Turner and Marina Mabrey missed back to back shots, and then Jackie Young gets her points in the paint. Then silence from the Irish offense. UConn goes on a 9-0 run led by Napheesa Collier and Megan Walker. At 2:55 Turner stops the bleeding and gets two more points, to bring the Irish within seven.
UConn struggled as well. They shot 7-20, for 35% in the first quarter. That means that the Irish defense was compensating for the offensive struggle. The defense grabbed 12 defensive rebounds, led by Jessica Shepard with 3. Offensively the Irish rounded out the first quarter with an 0-5 from three point range. The Irish were 6-20 or 30% shooting in the first quarter. Turner led all Irish scorers with six, Young had four, and Shepard had two. UConn wins the first quarter 16-12.
Shepard received the message from Coach McGraw loud and clear at the end of the first quarter. Shepard opened with an 8-0 run of her own to start the quarter and forced Coach Auriemma to call a time out to slow her down. Shepard’s last bucket was the result of her own steal and went coast to coast to score. UConn went a 6-0 only to be stopped by a Mabrey three at 3:36 left in the second quarter.
UConn shot 6-16, for 38% and went 0-7 from three point range. Notre Dame shot 8-22 for 36% and 1-6 from three point range. The second quarter was the Jessica Shepard show. 10 points that led all Irish scorers. The stat that sticks out is the free throw attempts. Now if you don’t foul your opponent, they can score with the clock not running. If you were wondering Arike only had two points in the first half. When was the last time you heard that. The Irish outscore UConn 17-14, but go into the half down one 30-29.
The third quarter saw much of what happened in the first half, but more points being scored. Katie Lou Samuelson who had been quiet much of the first half came out on fire. She had three layups, two three pointers and three free throws to end the quarter. Those three free throws where the difference for UConn in the quarter. three other UConn players scored nine points in the same time frame. If Samuelson doesn’t get fouled shooting the three point shot, ND wins the quarter 52-51. But that was not the case.
On the Irish side of the ball, Ogunbowale sprung to life as well. Starting off with two free throws, Ogunbowale added a jumper and a three pint shot at 5:30 to give ND a lead of one with :013 left in the quarter. ND defense did a good job on the glass as the swiped seven boards. ND was 8-13 and 2-3 from three point range. The Fightin’ Irish were hanging around and that’s all they needed to do was be close.
This all important quarter is about survival of the fittest. The one quarter you don’t want to lose is the last one. ND was having no parts of that discussion in this semifinal match. Goal number one needed to be shutting down Samuelson, goal number two needed to be kicking the game into fourth gear and finishing. the Irish completed goal number one by shutting down Samuelson to just five points the entire quarter. Allowing UConn to be 9-17 on shots made including 3-5 from three point range and allowing only six rebounds total for the quarter.
The fight came out in the Fightin’ Irish at last. Ogunbowale exploded fr 14 points, including 2-4 from three point range. In the last 7:33 of the game ND outscored UConn 26-12, 7-14 shots made, 9-10 from the free throw line and 3-4 from three point range. That is a huge swing from any direction you look. The Irish defense shutdown the Huskies for the last :59 left in the game. During that time ND outscored the Huskies 9-3 to seal the deal and move onto a match-up against the Baylor Bears. ND beats the Huskies 81-76.
Arike Ogunbowale 23 Points, 7-18, 3-8 from three point range, 6 Defensive Rebounds, 1 Assist and 1 Steal
Jessica Shepard 20 Points 10-19 shots, 7 Offensive Rebounds, 6 Defensive Rebounds, 7 Assists, 1 Steal
Brianna Turner 15 Points 4-9 shots, 7-8 Free Throws, 6 Offensive Rebounds, 9 Defensive Rebounds, 2 Assists, 5 Blocks
Marina Mabrey 12 Points, 4-14 shots, 3-10 from three point range, 1 Offensive Rebounds, 2 Defensive Rebounds, 12 Assists, 1 Steal
Jackie Young 11 Points, 5-15 shots, 1-2 from three point range, 2 Offensive Rebounds, 3 Defensive Rebounds, 2 Assists
” Well, I mean, obviously we’re incredibly disappointed that we didn’t win the game. But we played a great team. They played really, really well when they had to.”
“We knew going in that we had to make a bunch of shots. When we went in at halftime, after holding them to 29, it’s now 30-29, then you know they’re not going to stay — then we still had a chance. We just weren’t good enough tonight to do it. I mean, it’s not anything other than they were just better than us tonight. They were better than us when the season started and they were better than us tonight.”
“They had more good players play better and contribute more than we did. That’s just the way the world is. They deserved to win, and we didn’t do quite enough to win. That’s it.”
” That was an amazing second half. First half I thought we really struggled to score. The second half really just caught fire. I think we played our normal game in the third quarter.”
“But I thought Brianna Turner was absolutely outstanding on defense. She now has the blocked shot record at Notre Dame, beating Ruth Riley. So proud of her. She really single-handedly kept us in the game the first half. She had so many key blocked shots.”
“Arike in the second half did what Arike does. She had some huge screens, made some great plays, and then free throws down the stretch.”
“Jessica Shepard, what an amazing game. 20 and 13. Bri, 15 and 15. We felt like we needed to rebound in order to win and I thought we did that.”
The Irish earned program win No. 999
Turner becomes the second Irish player in program history to reach the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound milestone. Turner now boasts 2,005 career points and 1,036 career rebounds
Notre Dame will take on the Baylor Bears on Sunday at 6 PM EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and could be heard on PULSE FM 96.9/92.1/103.1 .
Cheers and Go Irish! ☘🏀⚡