Arike Ogunbowale hits milestone in Notre Dame's season-opening romp

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Arike Ogunbowale got into the 1,000-point club, Jessica Shepard got into the flow, and Notre Dame got its women’s basketball season off to a rousing start with a 121-65 runaway win over Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.

They also left plenty of room for improvement as a crowd of 7,418 looked on.

“I felt we scored the ball pretty well, did some good things on offense, but I was disappointed in our defense,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we can play much better. I think we can bring a little more intensity, I think we can communicate better, I think we can do a lot of things better at the defensive end. We have a lot of work to do there.”

The offensive work, though, was enough to help give Notre Dame the third-highest point total in program history, exceeded only by 128-point showings in December 2011 and December 2012.

Ogunbowale led the No. 6-ranked Irish with 21 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in just 25 minutes. The junior guard was named the preseason 15th-best player in the nation earlier in the week by an ESPN panel.

Shepard added 18 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and three assists in just 19 minutes.

“Really pleased with Jessica,” McGraw said of the junior who learned she would be eligible this season just 10 days earlier, after transferring from Nebraska in the offseason. “Really, her first game, and to get a double-double, I thought she took advantage of her size inside.

“And Arike, getting a thousand points the first game of her junior year, that’s an amazing accomplishment,” McGraw added. “When you look at all the great players that have played here, not many have done it that early, so she’s got just such a great future with us. She’s just such an electric offensive player.”

Ogunbowale became the 37th 1,000-point scorer in ND women’s history, ending the game at 1,007.

“It’s my teammates helping me get the ball,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s an honor to be able to do it at such a great school, with all these players that have come before.”

Shepard looked like one of the next great players.

Her waiver request for immediate eligibility was awarded by the NCAA just hours before Notre Dame’s exhibition last week. The 6-foot-4 forward indicated Saturday that it was tough to be ready for that game not knowing for sure that she would play.

In the regular-season opener, though, she got her first start and attacked quickly, notching 11 points and six rebounds in the first quarter as the Irish took a 33-17 lead.

Her performance came three days after McGraw indicated that there are more plays to add down the road that’ll further fit Shepard — who said she’s plenty acclimated now.

“I’m very comfortable out there in our offense, and defensively,” Shepard said. “Coach knows how to get people into the position they need to be in … I think Coach is one of the best X’s and O’s coach in the country, so I think it’s pretty easy to get comfortable.”

No Irish player looked uncomfortable Saturday.

That included Lili Thompson, the graduate transfer from Stanford charged with taking over point-guard duties, and senior Kat Westbeld, who did not play in the exhibition and has sat out numerous practices after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.

Westbeld finished with six points, four rebounds and two assists in 10 minutes.

“I thought she looked great,” McGraw said. “I was really happy with her, especially in the first half. Like she always does, she gives us a great spark.”

Thompson netted 10 points and dealt a game-high eight assists against just one turnover before sitting after three quarters with the Irish up 93-53.

“Eight assists, one turnover, I thought she played a pretty good floor game, and Marina (Mabrey) also,” McGraw said. “Between the two of them, one turnover with 11 assists. That’s a really good ratio.”

Mabrey tallied 18 points and made three steals. Jackie Young added 16 points and six rebounds.

Off the bench, Danielle Patterson contributed 11 points, while fellow freshman forward Mikayla Vaughn had nine points and seven boards.

Mount St. Mary’s (0-1) was led by Ashlee White with 12 points and Katrice Dickson with 11.

Daly Sullivan — a freshman out of South Bend Saint Joseph — debuted with eight points off the bench, all in the first half.

It was Sullivan’s 3-pointer midway through the second quarter that gave the Mountaineers their last single-digit deficit at 40-31 before ND began to pull away, leading 61-35 by halftime.

“It felt amazing to play here, and to go against such a great team was really special,” Sullivan said. “To grow up watching Muffet coach, and to watch players like Kayla McBride and Skylar Diggins, they were role models to me, really helped me appreciate the game.”

Before the game, McBride became the fifth women’s inductee into Notre Dame basketball’s Ring of Honor. As she feared earlier in the week, she shed a few tears of while thanking her supporters.

The Irish won their 23rd straight season opener and their 23rd straight home opener.

Now they play away from home in each of their next seven games, beginning with a Tuesday visit to Western Kentucky.

The Toppers upset No. 16 Missouri 79-76 on Friday in the opening round of the Hawkeye Challenge at Iowa.

Notre Dame junior Arike Ogunbowale (24) goes up for a shot over Mount St. Mary's Kayla Agentowicz (21) during ND's 121-65 romp, Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)