Notebook: Defending Arike Ogunbowale a challenge for Stanford

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

LEXINGTON, Ky. — When she’s on her game, figuring out Arike Ogunbowale is a difficult task.

Just ask Ohio State.

Friday night, during the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s 23-point NCAA Regional semifinal win over the Buckeyes, the 5-foot-8 sophomore was nothing short of amazing.

Despite making just 1 of her first 5 shots, Ogunbowale caught fire and collected 32 points (11-for-22 from the field) and nine rebounds to give Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer something to toss and turn about in anticipation of Sunday’s NCAA Regional championship game at Rupp Arena.

“(Ogunbowale is) versatile,” said VanDerveer. “She's strong. She's got great hands. She gives you inside and outside dimension. I mean, if you have a small person on her, she'll post them up. If you have a big one, she'll pull them away.

“I think we'll just have to try the 'spaghetti approach' and throw it up on the wall and see if it sticks.”

Common ground

Even though they’ve met (1-1) in the last two NCAA Regionals, Notre Dame and Stanford haven’t met in the regular season since 1991. In all, the Cardinal owns a 3-1 edge. The only Irish win was 81-60 in the Oklahoma City Regional in 2015.

Common opponents this season include Purdue (both won), Tennessee (both lost) and Washington (both won).

Stanford has lost to Oregon State (twice), UCLA and Gonzaga, and beat Oregon State to win the Pac-12 Tournament championship.

Sad room

Last year’s six-point loss to Stanford in the semifinal of the NCAA Regional, in which the Cardinal shot 56 percent (33 of 59) from the field and 55 percent (11 of 20) from 3-point, left Notre Dame stunned.

“Something that really sticks with me is the feeling in the locker room afterward,” said Irish junior Kathryn Westbeld. “Our seniors were heartbroken. For me, that just kind of stuck.

“It’s something I don’t want any of our seniors to have to go through, especially Sunday. That’s the motivation that’s sticking with me.”

Of course, it made things worse when Stanford went out in the regional final against Washington and couldn’t buy a basket in a nine-point loss to Washington.

Who flinches?

Without injured 6-foot-3 post Brianna Turner, Notre Dame has gone to a unique, smaller lineup. That forces the opposition to either counter with its normal size, or adjust its lineup to match up better.

Stanford’s inside situation will come with 6-3 Erica McCall (14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-3 Kaylee Johnson (3.9, 5.3)

One of those two will be forced to leave the comfort zone of the paint to chase 6-2 “post” Erin Boley around the perimeter. That should be the tipping point that could gauge the momentum of the game.

If Stanford coach VanDerveer (who graduated from Indiana University in 1975) goes “small,” it will be an indication the Irish plan is working. If Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw turns to 6-4 Kristina Nelson more than the seven minutes she played against Ohio State, that will mean Stanford’s inside game was dominant.

“With this (Notre Dame) team, it’s just refining things, looking at mismatches we have and making sure we’re exploiting those,” said Irish point guard Lindsay Allen. “(We need to remember) those and (have) that muscle memory to continue through this game.”

Purdue's Bridget Perry (13) tries to steal the ball from Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale (24) during a second-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 19, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 88-82 in overtime. (Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin)