ND's Arike Ogunbowale expands her game

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Who’s got next?

Who’s going to be the rising star on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.

This season should belong to Lindsay Allen and Brianna Turner. But there’s another elite talent waiting to blossom.

Give her time, but at some point Arike Ogunbowale is going to be special.

If it’s possible for Ogunbowale to become a household name with Irish fans, it’s going to happen.

A 5-foot-8 sophomore guard from Milwaukee, she established a solid foundation as a freshman. Ogunbowale knew how to score. And, unlike many young’uns with a penchant toward putting points on the board, she understood the significance of playing defense.

That makes transitioning into a more prominent role easier.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw likes to use the word “fearless” whenever she talks about Ogunbowale. There’s a statistic that quantifies that trait. While scoring 11.4 points as the first guard off the bench in all 35 games last season, Ogunbowale went to the free throw line 131 times (making 94, 72 percent), second on the team behind post Brianna Turner (133).

Her ability to drive to the basket and finish – or at least get some points from the free throw line out of the deal – gave Notre Dame a different dimension to its attack.

“(By the end of the season) I was able to read defenders after I got used to how people were playing me,” Ogunbowale said. “They watched film on me, so they knew I liked to drive to the basket. That means (the defense) would (collapse).

“I got in the gym more so that I could pull up (and shoot). Now, they have to come up to me or let me drive. It’s hard to guard both. I have to focus on how teams are guarding me, then work off of that.”

That’s where Ogunbowale put her emphasis this offseason. In an effort to develop a long-range game to go with her ability to get to the hoop, Ogunbowale willed herself into being a 3-point threat.

“She made a huge jump, in terms of discipline and a sense of urgency,” McGraw said of Ogunbowale. “Her 3-point shot looks a lot better. It looks like she spent a lot of time working on her shot.

“We’re expecting similar to what she did last year (offensively), but a lot more help on the defensive side.”

“I shot about 100 to 150 (3-pointers) every day,” Ogunbowale said. “It makes me harder to guard. They have to respect that I can shoot. It keeps (defenders) on their toes a lot. I’ll keep them guessing.”

McGraw said it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Irish could go with a 10-player rotation this season. They’re that deep. It’s a good bet that Ogunbowale will trade in the sixth-man role for that of a starter.

No big deal.

“Starting wouldn’t be any different (than coming off the bench),” she said. “I played (on a national team) before (last season) and I was the sixth man there. I got used to that role.

“I played. I was on the court, whether it was at the start of the game or a few minutes later. Whatever I can do to help the team.”

It’s all about energy, of which she has plenty.

“As a freshman, it was hard for me,” Ogunbowale said. “You want to know that you’re giving everything you’ve got. This year, I’ll be more relaxed. I’ve got a year under my belt. I know how fatigued you can get in the middle of the season.

“College basketball is tough. You have to find a way for you to stand out, and for your team to stand out. Everyone’s good.”

This is Ogunbowale’s chance to go from good to great.