Shaky start, fine finish for Notre Dame women in win over Virginia Tech

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Despite just seven healthy scholarship players over these last eight weeks, Notre Dame will play for at least a share of its seventh straight women’s college basketball regular-season conference title Sunday.

The Irish, shaking off a shaky first quarter, put themselves in position to do so with an 89-59 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion.

No. 5 Notre Dame (26-2) improved to 14-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and hosts surging No. 21 North Carolina State (22-6, 11-4) at 2 p.m. Sunday.

No. 4 Louisville (28-2) will also enter that final day of the ACC regular season at 14-1 in the league. The Cardinals will be home to lowly Pittsburgh (10-18, 2-13).

Arike Ogunbowale scored 26 points in ND’s victory over the Hokies (17-11, 6-9), including a 4-of-8 effort outside the arc.

Fellow junior Marina Mabrey notched her second career double-double — and barely missed her first triple-double — with 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. She was 7-of-9 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and 5-of-5 at the line, extending her streak of made free throws to 26.

Sophomore Jackie Young added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the winners.

"You have to be impressed with what they are doing out there," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said of the three. "They're playing hard. They're spelling each other at the point. They've all had tremendous years and I think all three of them deserve all-conference."

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks was impressed.

"(Mabrey) did a great job stabilizing them tonight," Brooks said. "Ogunbowale, in my opinion, is the best player in the league. (Young) is very athletic and complements the other two. They may not have the quantity, but they have the quality."

Jessica Shepard added 11 points for ND and senior Kathryn Westbeld scored exactly the eight points she needed to reach 1,000 in her career.

It marks the first time since 1984-85, according to the school, that ND has had three players hit 1,000 for their careers in the same season. Ogunbowale and Mabrey reached the mark earlier this winter. Doing the honors in '84-85 were Trena Keys, Mary Beth Schueth and Carrie Bates.

After giving up 24 points in the opening quarter — the most the Irish have allowed in a quarter with a game in doubt since the Jan. 18 Tennessee contest — they immediately clamped down in the second, allowing just eight points.

Making that opening period even more alarming, Tech was playing without its leading scorer on the season, Taylor Emery (18.0 points per game), who was ill and did not make the trip, per the ACC telecast.

"They gave us a tough time," McGraw said. "We didn't come out with a lot of energy and intensity. I thought we weren't aware where the shooters were. We did not have good communication. We didn't rebound. I thought they outhustled us."

Also out for the Hokies was Chanette Hicks, the team’s assists (5.7) and steals (3.2) leader as well as a 12.1 points-per-game scorer. She’s missed the last five games for personal reasons.

Trailing 24-23 in the closing minute of the first quarter, ND set sail on a 15-0 run over the next four minutes to seize the lead it would keep the rest of the way.

The Irish outscored Tech 42-21 over the middle quarters for a 68-45 advantage entering the final period and led by as many as 31 points in that closing quarter.

Ogunbowale poured in 13 points in the opening period, making 5-of-7 from the field with three 3-pointers.

Mabrey had nine points, five assists and five rebounds before intermission.

Notre Dame shot 31-of-63 from the field with seven 3-pointers and 20-of-23 at the line. The Hokies were 19-of-60 from the field with 11 triples and 10-of-14 at the line.

The Irish also ruled in paint points with a 32-8 advantage and outscored Tech 20-9 by way of second chances.

Freshman Aisha Shepard led the Hokies with 21 points. Alexis Jean added 17.

Fellow junior Regan Magarity scored nine in the first half, but was held scoreless in the second half.

ND won its 22nd straight home game and can finish with its third unbeaten home regular season in the last five years by defeating the Wolfpack on Sunday.

VIRGINIA TECH (17-11): Berry 2-7 2-4 6, Jean 5-13 4-4 17, Magarity 4-14 0-0 9, Brooks 0-2 0-0 0, Camp 1-9 4-6 6, Brooks 0-0 0-0 0, Sheppard 7-15 0-0 21, Totals 19-60 10-14 59.

NOTRE DAME (26-2): Shepard 4-12 3-5 11, Westbeld 2-9 4-4 8, Mabrey 7-9 5-5 21, Ogunbowale 11-20 0-0 26, Young 4-5 4-5 12, Butler 0-1 2-2 2, Nelson 1-3 0-0 2, Patterson 1-3 2-2 4, Benz 0-0 0-0 0, Cole 1-1 0-0 3, Totals 31-63 20-23 89.

Va. Tech 24 32 45 59

Notre Dame 26 45 68 89

3-Point Goals--Virginia Tech 11-26 (Jean 3-6, Magarity 1-3, Brooks 0-2, Sheppard 7-15), Notre Dame 7-15 (Westbeld 0-2, Mabrey 2-4, Ogunbowale 4-8, Cole 1-1). Assists--Virginia Tech 9 (Camp 4), Notre Dame 15 (Mabrey 8). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Virginia Tech 30 (Berry 6), Notre Dame 42 (Mabrey 11). Total Fouls--Virginia Tech 14, Notre Dame 14. Technical Fouls--None.A--8,053.

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale (24) drives downcourt in front of Virginia Tech's Regan Magarity (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)