Wisconsin's best meet when Iowa visits Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — For Notre Dame, it’s a chance to show how good they are at not looking ahead. For Iowa, it’s a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation.
Then there are the Wisconsinites. For them, it’s a chance to pridefully watch how their state has blessed the women’s college basketball world.
When the top-ranked Irish (6-0) and No. 14 Hawkeyes (4-1) square off Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion in front of an ESPN2 national TV audience — and three days in front of ND’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown against visiting Connecticut — count on Wisconsin to provide plenty of viewers who own more than a passing interest.
While Notre Dame offers Wisconsin-raised senior Arike Ogunbowale at guard, Iowa features Wisconsin-grown senior Megan Gustafson in the post.
They were widely considered the top two high school players in a bumper crop from the cheese state in 2015, and they haven’t disappointed at the collegiate level.
In fact, last spring, the two poetically finished in a dead heat for the final two spots on the Associated Press All-America second team.
Ogunbowale moved up to AP first team in preseason voting earlier this month.
Gustafson did not, but she was also already a Sports Illustrated first-teamer after merely leading the country in scoring last season.
“We never played each other in high school,” Ogunbowale said Wednesday of Gustafson, “but I always heard of her.”
Few in Wisconsin, if they follow sports, haven’t.
Gustafson shattered the state scoring record while at tiny South Shore High School in Port Wing with 3,229 points.
While she was doing that, though, Ogunbowale was winning AP state player of the year honors three times and being named Miss Basketball as a senior at Divine Savior Holy Angels in Milwaukee.
“We had some really great players,” Ogunbowale said of the 2015 Wisconsin class that also includes reigning Big East Player of the Year Allazia Blockton of Marquette among others. “We always had good competition in Wisconsin, and it’s good that everybody carried that over to college.”
Port Wing, on the northern tip of Wisconsin, is more than six hours from Milwaukee, and figuratively, Gustafson and Ogunbowale were possibly even further apart when it came to the level of competition they faced.
Ogunbowale led her team to a Division I state title. Gustafson played in Division 5, reserved for the smallest-enrollment schools.
Perhaps that led to some doubt about Gustafson excelling in the collegiate game — she was rated No. 80 nationally by ESPN in the class of 2015 coming out of high school, while Ogunbowale was No. 10 — but she’s become a true coup for the Hawkeyes.
This season, she already has won Big Ten Player of the Week each of the first three weeks of this season, and that’s after she set a league record by capturing the honor nine times last season.
The 6-foot-3 Gustafson is averaging 23.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and is shooting a silly 77 percent from the field. As a junior, she finished at 25.7 points, 12.8 boards and 67 percent.
“I think she’s a terrific post player, probably the best we’ve seen so far,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday. “She’s shooting I think close to 80 percent from the field, which is phenomenal. If she gets the ball she’s gonna score, so we have to figure out, can we prevent her from getting it, and if she gets it, what can we do to stop her? So far, nobody’s been able to do it.”
Last Friday, Gustafson poured in 17 of her 28 points and grabbed six of her 16 rebounds in the fourth quarter as Iowa capped the largest comeback win ever by a Big Ten school.
The Hawkeyes trailed No. 25 West Virginia by 24 points late in the second quarter before rallying for the 84-81 Junkanoo Jam semifinal victory in the Bahamas.
Iowa lost the final to Florida State the next night, 71-67, when the Seminoles held Gustafson to eight field goal tries and no free throws.
While she made every shot she did get, it was still a suggestive recipe for slowing the Hawkeyes.
“That’s their biggest thing,” Ogunbowale said of the post play Iowa presents between Gustafson and 6-2 senior forward Hannah Stewart. “If we can get stops there, then we can probably control the game, but they have a couple good shooters, so we have to watch that, too.”
One more thing to watch is how well the Irish place their attention on the Hawkeyes with UConn looming.
“I think that’s what we’re best at,” Ogunbowale said of staying on the task at hand. “We don’t really look to the future. We just try to focus on each game, because everybody’s going to give us their best game.”
Marina Mabrey was on a restricted-minutes count when she made her season debut for Notre Dame in Saturday’s 91-81 Vancouver Showcase championship win over No. 9 Oregon State.
The senior point guard will remain limited in that regard “for another week or so,” McGraw said Wednesday.
Mabrey had nine points, two assists and one steal, and committed just one turnover over 19 minutes against the Beavers.
It was her 3-pointer with 3:23 to go that gave the Irish the lead for good at 80-77 in a game ND trailed most of the night.
“I don’t have any pain,” Mabrey said Wednesday of the left quadriceps injury that kept her out of the season’s first five games, “(but) I definitely feel like my lung capacity and cardio have taken a hit. But I think it’ll come back quick. I just gotta get back into it and keep working.”
Mabrey said she doesn’t have a precise timeline in mind for feeling 100 percent, but added that “I think it’s going to be a few weeks before I look like my normal self out there.”
The Irish, meanwhile, are pleased to have any version of Mabrey out there.
“To have her back, her presence at the point guard position, really calmed everybody down,” Ogunbowale said.
“It was so great to have Marina Mabrey back,” McGraw concurred. “That was just amazing that she made such an impact in the game in just the limited minutes she was allowed to play. I thought she brought us great energy, and just having another guard that can shoot a 3, it’s what we’ve really been lacking.”
Every ND scholarship player was dressed for practice Wednesday, a sweet sight for a team that already has had several individuals miss games due to injury.
Besides Mabrey sitting out all of the first five, freshman point guard Jordan Nixon missed all of last week’s three contests with a concussion. Forwards Jessica Shepard and Danielle Patterson each have sat out one game.
WHO: No. 14 Iowa (4-1) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (6-0) in ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET.
TICKETS: Available, $7 to $25.
RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).
NOTING: All-American senior center Megan Gustafson is at 23.2 points and 12.6 rebounds a game to lead five Iowa players averaging in double figures. Shooting 77 percent from the field, she’s joined by junior guard Makenzie Meyer (15.0 points, 5.4 assists, 15-of-35 on 3-pointers), senior forward Hannah Stewart (13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds), senior guard Tania Davis (12.0 points, 4.4 assists), and junior guard Alexis Sevillian (10.8 points, 1.4 steals). The Hawkeyes are averaging 90.2 points and lead the nation in assists at 25.0 per game. … Notre Dame leaders include Arike Ogunbowale (24.5 points, 3.7 assists, 2.0 steals), Jessica Shepard (18.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 61 percent from the field), Jackie Young (18.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists) and Brianna Turner (14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds). Ogunbowale has scored at least 20 points in all six games this season, the best streak of her career. She’s coming off Vancouver Showcase MVP honors, while Young’s the reigning ESPN women’s player of the week. … This is Iowa’s first-ever visit to Notre Dame. The Irish are 3-0 against the Hawkeyes with all three meetings coming in Iowa City, the most recent a 73-58 outcome two years ago. … Thursday’s game is the first of at least eight Notre Dame regular-season contests that will be televised by ESPN, ESPN2 or FS1. … It’s Teddy Bear Toss night, with fans encouraged to bring stuffed animals to throw onto the court as donations to local children.
QUOTING: “I think there’s still a pretty big gap between the bench and the starters. You’re talking about five WNBA players and a lot of freshmen. I think they understand that, understand the growing pains, but it’s really good to have (the contributions the reserves have made). If we get in foul trouble or anything else goes wrong, we know we can count on them.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on the up-and-down minutes the backups are receiving.