SOUTH BEND — Forget rattling Arike Ogunbowale’s confidence on the court.
It’s probably not going to happen with all the athletic prowess she’s been exposed to just within her own family.
And it’s already been demonstrated that it’s not going to happen when she misses a shot, and another, and another … and maybe even a few others in a row.
“I think that’s just how I’ve always been,” Ogunbowale said Wednesday of the swagger she oozes as the premier scorer for the fifth-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team.
“Especially growing up with boys,” said Ogunbowale, who has a brother nine years older and a brother three years older than her. “I had to be confident. I couldn’t be scared. They treated me like one of them, so I think I just always had it in me.”
Dare Ogunbowale, the brother who is three years older, was a standout running back at Wisconsin and is now in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.
Arike’s father, Milwaukee high school principal Gregory Ogunbowale, played rugby, soccer and fought for the Nigerian Army. Mom Yolanda was a softball pitcher at DePaul.
She’s also had a handful of cousins star in collegiate sports, including Ryan Evans in basketball for Wisconsin and Diamond Stone in basketball for Maryland.
Now it’s Ogunbowale’s turn, and the junior guard isn’t disappointing.
“I think she’s definitely somebody that should be in the conversation for (national) player of the year,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday afternoon before practice. “What we’ve been able to accomplish, and she’s certainly the leader in that.”
Ogunbowale, who is on the Wooden Award Late-Season Top 20 watch list, is averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals as the Irish (23-2, 11-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) get ready to visit Virginia (16-9, 9-3) Thursday.
She’s been even better in a variety of manners lately. In her last 10 games, she’s 20-of-48 on 3-pointers for 41.6 percent. In her last 11, she’s 46-of-51 at the line for 90.2 percent. In ACC play, with more ball-handling placed on her plate due to the team’s injuries, she’s compiled a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“It’s just to win every game,” Ogunbowale said of her goals while shaking her head no on whether there are any statistical benchmarks she wants to hit personally.
“I’m just trying to do what the team needs me to do,” Ogunbowale said. “We don’t have that many players (ND’s down to seven scholarship individuals because of injuries), so I’m just trying to give as much energy and as much leadership as I can.”
“She’s a great teammate,” sophomore guard Jackie Young said Wednesday of Ogunbowale. “You can always count on her to make the big-time play, whether that’s on the offensive or defensive end. She’s just a great player we can count on.”
Even when Ogunbowale is misfiring, the faith others have in her seems to remain as steadfast as the confidence she has in herself.
“She’s a scorer. She’s gonna get hers,” Young said with a smile. “We’re not worried about that.”
“No question about it,” McGraw said with a laugh of Ogunbowale’s confidence. “She’s fearless. She doesn’t mind if she misses a few shots. She’s going to keep taking it, which is what you need. You have to have somebody that has that attitude of, ‘I know I have to score, it doesn’t matter what happened the last possession, this one’s going in.’”
Ogunbowale’s occasional streakiness was on two-way display as recently as ND’s last game, Sunday’s 85-69 win over Georgia Tech.
She poured in her team’s first eight points in just the opening 3:15, going 3-of-4 from the field with a 3-pointer and a free throw.
Then she proceeded to not score again in the half, going 0-of-5 from the field.
But wait, there’s more. Ogunbowale erupted for 19 second-half points, plus five second-half assists and two second-half steals, as the Irish busted free of the 39-all deadlock they were in at halftime.
Among other examples, in an 83-76 win over Miami last month, Ogunbowale shot just 1-of-12 from the field through three periods. The Hurricanes had the Irish knotted at 55-all, but in the closing quarter, she rescued her team with 3-of-5 from the field and 6-of-7 at the line.
“Wow,” was Ogunbowale’s own stunned reaction at the time when told of her shooting figures through three quarters and asked how she overcame it.
“That’s how,” McGraw interjected. “She doesn’t know.”
Bottom line, Ogunbowale has most often been at her best when it’s mattered most.
She scored 10 points during overtime in the 91-85 win over Marquette, had 13 points in the fourth quarter of the record-setting comeback win from 23 down against Tennessee and has reached double digits in fourth quarters three other times.
Further, for all her so-called droughts, her overall percentages remain sound at 47.3 on 2s, 35.7 on 3s and 80.2 at the line.
“I just try to do other things to impact the game,” Ogunbowale said of how she does handle those occasional cold spells.
But also, she quickly added, “still keep shooting.”
Two for 1,500?
Ogunbowale and fellow junior Jessica Shepard have a chance to crack 1,500 career points in the same game.
Ogunbowale is at 1,487 and Shepard 1,496.
The latter scored her first 1,112 points over her two seasons at Nebraska, before transferring to Notre Dame after last season.
Ogunbowale, meanwhile, already stands 15th on the all-time Irish chart with potentially a season-plus to go.
She’s on pace to become the fifth 2,000-point scorer in ND history (Skylar Diggins is at 2,357, Beth Morgan 2,322, Katryna Gaither 2,126 and Ruth Riley 2,072).
At 9-3 in the ACC, Virginia’s on pace to finish as the most improved team in league play this season after closing at 7-9 a year ago.
With four conference games remaining, the Cavaliers are in a battle with Florida State (9-3), Duke (9-4) and North Carolina State (9-4) to at least secure one of the final two double byes in the ACC Tournament — and even possess a long-shot possibility of catching 11-1 co-leaders Notre Dame and Louisville.
That’s because Virginia, besides Thursday’s game with the Irish, still has a second meeting with the Cardinals upcoming.
“They’re a great team, have everybody back, gave us a really good game both times last year,” McGraw said of the Cavs, who lost 82-74 at ND a year ago and by 17 points in the ACC Tourney. “They’re definitely a scary team. ... Their guards are terrific, can all shoot 3s, and their inside presence at 6-9 is something we haven’t seen this year.”
That 6-9 player is sophomore Felicia Aiyeotan, a native of Nigeria averaging 7.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.