ND WBB beats Texas A&M, returns to Elite 8
CHICAGO, Ill. - For the past several weeks, Notre Dame women’s basketball has cruised past its competition in an 11-game winning streak to get back to the Sweet 16.
Saturday against Texas A&M, it was a different story that led to a similar result.
“It’s win or go home and you have to buckle down defensively for 40 minutes,” head coach Muffet McGraw said after a back-and-forth affair at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. “We waited until the second half, then we waited for 6 minutes left in the game. We kept waiting for the time we’re going to defend. I think we can do better.”
The Irish will have a chance to improve by virtue of a second half that captured an 87-80 victory, as the Irish advance to the Elite Eight for the eighth time in the past nine years.
Much of that second-half effort came on the shoulders of Arike Ogunbowale, scoring 24 points on several timely buckets en route to her career-high 34 on the afternoon.
“It’s the moment,” Ogunbowale said of her emotions during the fourth quarter – a stretch that saw her earn a technical for letting those emotions spill over.
“It’s an exciting game, a close game,” she continued. “It’s the Sweet 16, and especially since it’s our last year, I’m going to give it all I have. I’m just having fun playing the game I love. It’s just amazing when you’re in that zone and you think everything’s going in at that time.”
On the other side though, Texas A&M had someone in the zone as well.
Sophomore Chennedy Carter proved a matchup nightmare throughout the game, no matter who earned the assignment.
Still, the combined effort of Notre Dame’s starters was enough to overcome Carter’s 35 points and seven three-pointers.
Jessica Shepard (24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) and Brianna Turner (12 points, six rebounds, four blocks) added their usual presence inside to help keep pace with the hot-shooting Aggies in the first half.
All part of an effort that reminded the Irish they could be in for a few more battles as they go for another title.
“We knew coming in that every game was going to be a dogfight,” said Turner, whose final block was the 100th in her career. “No one’s going to come in and let us take the game because we’re the higher seed. We knew A&M was going to come out and be really competitive for the whole 40 mintues.”
“There was only 16 teams that made it to this round, so we knew the team we were playing was a very good team” Shepard added. “We definitely had to come in at halftime, refocus, and play harder.”
Not only did the team come to life in the second half, but so did the crowd.
As expected, Wintrust Arena was packed with Irish green. Those fans who made the two-or-so hour drive from Michiana roared with applause throughout the final game-winning stretch. And it wasn’t lost on the team itself.
“That was so awesome to come out and see that crowd,” McGraw said, beaming. “To see the sea of green everywhere and to hear them. And we needed them too. They were packed out. Awesome environment.”
The Irish will play once more in that environment, now with a day off before playing Stanford in the Elite Eight on Monday with a return to the Final Four on the line.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9 pm EST.