Notre Dame women's hoops team gets shot at defending national champions

ND Insider Staff Report
ND Insider

Notre Dame will get a shot at defending national champion South Carolina.

Sophomore Jackie Young scored a career-high 23 points, junior Arike Ogunbowale added 21 points, and each grabbed seven rebounds, as the No. 6 Irish held on to beat No. 17 South Florida 76-66 in Saturday night’s second Gulf Coast Showcase women’s basketball semifinal at Estero, Fla.

ND came out of the gate fast, led all the way and survived the sensational shooting of Kitija Laksa for the Bulls (4-1).

The Irish (5-0) face the Gamecocks (6-0) in Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. final of the eight-team tourney. South Carolina, which has won 17 straight games going back to last season, is rated No. 2 in the coaches’ poll and No. 3 by the Associated Press.

Against South Florida, ND built its largest lead at 58-39 by the 1:20 mark of the third quarter, but the Bulls got as close as 67-58 in the fourth on Laksa’s ninth 3-pointer of the night with 5:36 to go.

Laksa, a junior from Latvia, finished with 36 points. Her 12-of-20 from the field included 9-of-11 outside the arc.

Jessica Shepard scored 15 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds for the Irish. Lili Thompson dished eight assists to go with two points.

Notre Dame finished 32-of-64 from the field with three triples and 9-of-11 at the line. The Irish committed 12 turnovers one night after coughing up 24 in their 77-46 first-round win over East Tennessee State and outrebounded South Florida 42-25.

ND led 41-28 at halftime, with Shepard and Young tallying nine points apiece by the break.

The Irish opened the game with some crisp offense, grabbing a 21-9 lead by the 2:30 mark of the first quarter thanks to an 8-0 run.

South Florida closed to 31-24 on Laksa’s fourth 3-pointer in four tries — giving her 18 points in the first 15 minutes of the game — but ND answered with a 6-0 spurt for its largest lead to that point at 37-24 with 3:59 to go before the break.

In South Carolina’s 76-58 semifinal win over St. John’s earlier in the evening, Gamecock forwards Alexis Jennings and A’ja Wilson dominated.

The 6-3 Jennings, a transfer from Kentucky, scored 25 points, while the 6-5 Wilson, a consensus first-team All-American last season for the national champs, collected 17 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

The duo combined to make 15-of-22 field goals and 11-of-14 free throws while sending the Red Storm to 3-1.

Looking ahead

Notre Dame and South Carolina have split four previous meetings. The most recent was in the 2015 NCAA semifinals, a thriller that the Irish won 66-65. Current South Carolina star A'ja Wilson scored 20 points as a freshman in that game, but the Irish won behind 22 points from Jewell Lloyd. That game was played in Tampa, Florida, about two hours north of Estero. Notre Dame would fall in the title game that year to Connecticut.

Notre Dame guard Jackie Young (5) drive to the hoop during Notre Dame's 76-66 win over South Florida, Saturday at the Gulf Coast Showcase at Estero, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame)