Notre Dame women win on court, win with Shepard's addition for coming season

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Neither outcome will officially appear in the victory column, but the Notre Dame women’s basketball team secured nothing less than two monster wins on Wednesday.

With freshman forward Mikayla Vaughn making a sensational debut off the bench, the sixth-ranked Irish soared past Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 108-40, in their exhibition game. But the other welcomed buzz within Purcell Pavilion concerned the off-court news about junior forward Jessica Shepard.

Notre Dame received word just a few hours before tip-off that the NCAA had granted Shepard’s hardship waiver request for immediate eligibility. Without it, the transfer from Nebraska would have had to sit out until next season.

“I actually just got done with a workout … and didn’t think I’d be playing today, so I was really excited to finally just know,” Shepard said after the exhibition.

The decision on Shepard’s request had dragged on several weeks beyond what ND coach Muffet McGraw originally expected.

“I was home,” McGraw said of learning the NCAA’s ruling in the afternoon. “I had time to really kind of rejoice and then to see Jess prior to the game. The whole team was really excited.”

The presence of Shepard, a two-time All-Big Ten forward, is a potentially immeasurable win for the Irish, given that All-America post player Brianna Turner is out for the season while she recovers from a knee injury, and that fellow returning starting forward Kathryn Westbeld remains out indefinitely after April ankle surgery.

The 6-foot-4 Shepard, who wasted little time smoothly fitting in with the Irish upon checking in midway through the first quarter, averaged 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds over her two seasons with the Cornhuskers.

In 2014-15, she was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and set a league record by being named freshman of the week 10 times.

As for the 6-3 Vaughn, she started out Wednesday like she might be chasing some freshman honors of her own this winter.

In just 20 minutes of action, Vaughn struck for a game-high 30 points, with eight rebounds, a game-high five blocked shots and 12-of-13 shooting from the field to go with 6-of-9 accuracy at the free-throw line.

IUP, with no player over 6-foot even, had no answer for Vaughn’s size, power, interior quickness and ambidextrous flashes.

“Mikayla Vaughn was really outstanding,” McGraw said. “She missed one shot from the field, 30 points, eight rebounds, five blocks — not a bad way to start your Notre Dame career.”

Others, meanwhile, continued theirs with some shining numbers of their own.

Marina Mabrey had 20 points and game highs of nine assists and two steals in 32 minutes for the Irish.

Fellow junior Arike Ogunbowale added 18 points in 25 minutes, while sophomore Jackie Young finished with 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in 25 minutes.

ND scored the first six points of the game, never lost the lead, led 35-8 through one quarter and was up 60-22 by halftime.

The Irish owned their largest spread at 101-32 with 3:37 left. They won their 32nd straight exhibition over the last 21 years, each of the last 11 such victories coming by at least 44 points.

Notre Dame tips its regular season Nov. 11, with a 1 p.m. home game against Mount St. Mary’s.

Notre Dame froward Jessica Shepard (23) dishes out a pass during her Irish debut in an exhibition win over Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)