With Lili Thompson out, Notre Dame's depth becomes a sore point

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Without Lili Thompson, there’s not a healthy scholarship player left on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team defined foremost as a point guard, but Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale are expressing confidence that they can help fill a role that for them has historically taken a secondary seat to scoring.

“I think we’re just going to rotate me, Marina (Mabrey) and Arike at point,” Young said after practice Wednesday afternoon as the No. 2-ranked Irish (13-1, 2-0) prepared for Thursday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference visit by Miami (11-3, 1-0). “Our lineup will look a little different, but I think we’ll be fine there.”

Notre Dame has been forced into its latest shuffle of responsibilities by virtue of Sunday’s knee injury to Thompson late in the third quarter of a 96-73 victory at Wake Forest.

The graduate transfer who leads the Irish at 4.6 assists per game is expected to miss at least Thursday’s contest and could be out longer. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the school had not announced an update on her status since she underwent an MRI on Tuesday afternoon.

Young is the all-time leading scorer in Indiana high school basketball history and Ogunbowale the No. 1 scorer on this season’s Notre Dame squad. While they are known first as point producers, both have spent time at point guard in their careers, as has Mabrey.

“Point guard’s a lot more running the stuff and creating the stuff, but it’s nothing real different,” Ogunbowale said. “We all practice it and we’ll be ready.”

“In high school, I played the point a lot,” Young said.

In college, not so much, at least not until Sunday’s win.

“It was the first time I played it for a long stretch,” Young said. “It helped my confidence a little bit and made me more comfortable.”

Young responded with a career-high six assists and drew praise from coach Muffet McGraw for her point-guard play.

In fact, Young and Ogunbowale both had notably strong floor games. Young’s assists came against no turnovers in 36 minutes, to go with nine points. Ogunbowale dished three assists against no turnovers in 35 minutes, to go with 25 points.

For the season, Ogunbowale is averaging 20.5 points and Young 13.6. Each is at 2.6 assists, while Mabrey’s at 12.5 points and 3.4 assists.

“It will,” Ogunbowale said of whether being at the point might affect her point output, “but you can score from all positions and I score a lot in transition anyway, so we just have to get the ball and go.”

“In our offense, you have an opportunity to score from wherever you’re at,” Young concurred. “Playing the point is more about helping somebody else score ultimately, but you still have your chances. If you know the plays, you can call some that can set you up, but really, it’s just about winning the game and setting your teammates up in good position to score.”

Whether at the point or any other spot, communication remains fundamental, but it’s at the point that decision-making becomes key, according to Young.

“Whenever I’m on the wing, you hear the point guard call the play out, so you just know where to go, but now, if you’re the point guard, it’s you reading the defense,” Young said. “It’s you trying to get your team in the right positions, and hopefully it’s you calling out the right play.”

Miami's vice

Notre Dame’s first game potentially minus one of its primary ball-handlers in Thompson will come against none other than a team adept at taking away the ball.

Miami is forcing 23.3 turnovers per contest to rank 11th among 345 Division I teams, and the Hurricanes’ turnover margin of plus-4.6 stands 41st nationally.

“They’re quick. They like to pressure,” McGraw said. “They do a lot on the full court, but they trap in the half-court, too, It’ll be a little frantic.”

The Irish, averaging 14.6 turnovers, are breaking even in margin at plus-0.07.

The Canes already have defeated two ranked teams. They’re coming off a 51-48 win over then-No. 14 Duke, and their current six-game winning streak began when they beat then-No. 20 Kentucky 65-54.

On the other hand, they’ve played just one true road game, falling 67-61 at Colorado on Nov. 18.

“They’ve just really been playing well together, playing great defensively,” McGraw said. “They have a freshman (Mykea Gray) who’s been (ACC) Rookie of the Week a couple times. She’s really playing well. She’s a good player, really good defender, good scorer.”

The 5-foot-4 Gray is averaging 14.1 points to lead a team that often goes deep into its bench. Miami features 11 players averaging between 11.9 and freshman Endia Banks’ club-leading 26.9 minutes per game.

In contrast, the Irish have four players averaging at least 28.4 minutes, but without Thompson, just two others averaging in double digits.

Roster addition

Notre Dame revealed Wednesday that it has elevated practice player Nicole Benz to its official roster.

A 5-foot-8 freshman from Valencia, Calif., Benz gives the Irish three active walk-ons.

She was a four-year varsity player at Hart High School in Santa Clarita and earned All-California Interscholastic Federation second-team honors as a junior.

Without Thompson, the Irish are down to seven scholarship players, her injury following the season-ending ones over the last 10 weeks to senior point guard Mychal Johnson and freshman center Mikayla Vaughn.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: Miami, Fla. (11-3, 1-0 ACC) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0 ACC).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WEB: ACC Network Extra.

TV: None.

NOTING: Two of Miami’s top three scorers are freshmen in 5-4 Mykea Gray (14.1 points per game) and 5-9 Endia Banks (8.2 ppg, 3.3 assists). Erykah Davenport, a 6-2 senior, is averaging 10.9 points and 9.6 rebounds. Three other Hurricanes average between 7.4 and 7.6 points apiece, while senior Keyanna Harris is at 5.4 points and a team-leading 2.6 steals. As a club, the Hurricanes are making 11.3 steals per game. … For the Irish, Arike Ogunbowale is at 20.5 ppg. Jessica Shepard’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, Jackie Young 13.6 points and 7.5 boards, and Marina Mabrey 12.5 points and 3.4 assists. Over her last four games, Kathryn Westbeld is at 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. … Notre Dame is 5-1 against Miami since joining the ACC, including a pair of league tourney wins, and has won four straight against the Hurricanes overall. The Irish have beaten Miami three straight times at Notre Dame, with the Canes’ last win at ND coming in January 2003.

QUOTING: “We haven’t gotten the results yet, but we’re just really praying for her and hoping for good things to come. … It’s true, we’ve had a lot happen (in terms of injuries this season), but God has a plan.” — Jackie Young, Notre Dame guard, while discussing teammate Lili Thompson on Wednesday.

Notre Dame's Lili Thompson (1) questions a call during the second half of an overtime victory over Marquette on Dec. 20. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)