Notre Dame women's basketball puts on a clinic to beat Ohio State

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

LEXINGTON, Ky. – When basketball strategy is cleverly devised and then properly executed, the result can be impressive indeed.

Such was the case Friday night in the first semifinal game of the Lexington NCAA Regional when second-ranked Notre Dame, playing without its most potent weapon in Brianna Turner, followed a game plane to perfection, performed with poise and inspiration and buried No. 11 Ohio State, 99-76.

The victory moves coach Muffet McGraw’s top-seeded Irish (33-3) into an Elite Eight matchup Sunday at noon against No. 2 seed Stanford (31-5). The Cardinal eliminated 3 seed Texas, 77-66, Friday night.

“I am really proud of this team — the young players really played well,” said McGraw. “I am proud of their resilience.”

Played well? That's an understatement. All the Irish performed like they owned the stage against the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (28-7). Six Notre Dame players scored in double figures, led by Arike Ogunbowale’s 32 points.

It was a career high for the sophomore guard and the third-most ever scored by a Notre Dame player in NCAA Tourney play. Beth (Morgan) Cunningham scored 36 in 1997, Charel Allen had 35 in 2008 and Ruth Riley scored 32 in 2001.

Kathryn Westbeld and Lindsay Allen had double-doubles, with Westbeld scoring 10 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Allen had 16 points and 10 assists.

Marina Mabrey added 14 points, the same as freshman Erin Boley, and fellow rookie Jackie Young scored 13.

“They were certainly the better team tonight,” said Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff. “That’s what I want us to look like.”

McGuff was an assistant at Notre Dame from 1996 to 2002.

“The Notre Dame culture and team looked fantastic tonight,” said junior Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State.

In the absence of Turner, McGraw devised an offensive plan that included shooting the 3 but also driving the lanes and even using the pass to cutters in the low post — and they all worked well.

Ogunbowale’s work was a good example.

“She shot the 3, drove the ball and even posted up. She really showed her versatility,” said McGuff.

Notre Dame’s success inside offensively was surprising.

“They couldn’t sag off to help too much, because we could shoot the 3,” said Ogunbowale.

Shoot the 3 the Irish did, hitting 12-of-24 from behind the arc and shooting 52.3 percent overall. The 12 threes give the Irish 211 for the season, breaking the former season record of 207 set in 2015-16.

McGraw during the week stressed the important of rebounding — especially with Turner out of the lineup. Her players responded, taking a 42-30 edge in that part of the game.

After the first quarter, the Irish dominated. At one stretch at the end of the first quarter and start of the second Notre Dame hit 13 straight shots.

Ogunbowale and Boley both said the Irish were loose, but focused. And feeling any pressure?

“Pressure? That’s a word she doesn’t know the meaning of,” said McGraw of Ogunbowale.

This is the eighth time an Irish team has reached the Elite Eight. Should the Irish win, they will be headed to their eighth Final Four. This year’s national championship games and semis will be played in Dallas.

Ohio State led after one quarter, 25-24, but the Irish reeled off 56 points in the next two quarters to take an 80-65 lead entering the final period. Converting 19 of 20 free throws, the Irish never let the Buckeyes threaten late.

McGraw knows the Sunday test against Stanford will be tougher but was able to enjoy Saturday’s outcome a bit. She praised Boley, playing in her home state of Kentucky.

“That was her best game of the year,” McGraw said of Boley’s 14-point, nine rebound effort. The nine boards were a season high for Boley.

She was happy with the effort and results she got from the junior Westbeld.

“Kat is our glue,” McGraw said. “Kat is somebody we had to have in there. She works the high post, and the pick and roll so well. She is such a smart player.”

The Irish victory was their 17th straight, and it pushed their overall NCAA record to 56-22.

Mitchell, the nation's seventh-leading scorer (22.7 ppg), led Ohio State with 18 points, but only six in the second half. Ohio State was limited to 42.3 percent shooting.

“They just outplayed us offensively and defensively,” said Mitchell.

OHIO STATE (28-7): Shayla Cooper 4-13 0-0 9, Tori McCoy 4-8 0-0 8, Sierra Calhoun 3-8 0-0 7, Kiara Lewis 0-2 0-0 0, Kelsey Mitchell 6-14 4-5 18, Alexa Hart 4-8 0-1 8, Stephanie Mavunga 2-5 0-0 4, Makayla Waterman 2-3 1-1 6, Asia Doss 2-5 2-3 8, Linnae Harper 3-5 0-0 8. Totals 30-71 7-10 76.

NOTRE DAME (33-3): Erin Boley 5-10 0-0 14, Kathryn Westbeld 4-7 2-2 10, Lindsay Allen 5-10 6-6 16, Marina Mabrey 5-11 0-0 14, Arike Ogunbowale 11-22 6-7 32, Kristina Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Mychal Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Ali Patberg 0-0 0-0 0, Jackie Young 4-4 5-5 13. Totals 34-65 19-20 99.

Ohio St. 25 17 23 11 —76

Notre Dame 24 26 30 19 —99

3-Point Goals-Ohio St. 9-24 (Cooper 1-4, Calhoun 1-5, Lewis 0-1, Mitchell 2-7, Hart 0-1, Waterman 1-1, Doss 2-3, Harper 2-2), Notre Dame 12-24 (Boley 4-6, Westbeld 0-1, Allen 0-1, Mabrey 4-9, Ogunbowale 4-7). Assists-Ohio St. 23 (Mitchell 6), Notre Dame 23 (Allen 10). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Ohio St. 30 (Cooper 13), Notre Dame 42 (Westbeld 11). Total Fouls-Ohio St. 17, Notre Dame 14. A-3,148.

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale (24) shoots while defended by Ohio State's Shayla Cooper (32) during a regional semifinal in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 24, 2017. (AP Photo/James Crisp)