Irish put UConn in the rearview, focus on Toledo

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — After having their last game taken to them by Connecticut, the Irish have taken to Twitter to make amends for the ugliness that happened during that loss.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and senior star Arike Ogunbowale each tweeted apologies on Tuesday, then after practice Friday, each addressed the motivation for doing so.

“Well, I think our fans are just so important to us for what they give us, and I was just really disappointed in our lack of effort at times, so I just wanted to say something to them,” McGraw said before the Irish boarded a bus for Saturday afternoon’s women’s basketball game at Toledo.

“It’s not like you can individually reach out to (all of) them,” McGraw said, “so I just wanted them to know we’re thankful for having them out here, and we’re going to do better.”

“This is really for the fans who come here every day,” Ogunbowale said Friday of her tweet. “They support us, so we didn’t want to end it like that. They support us the whole year, so I felt the need to address them.”

Notre Dame fell 89-71 to UConn in Sunday’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown at Purcell Pavilion. The teams have since switched positions in the rankings, with the Huskies taking over as the unanimous No. 1 in both major polls.

In her tweet, Ogunbowale said, “To My Irish family, I let my emotions get the best of me on Sunday and I apologize for displaying that type of behavior. Thank you for always supporting us through everything. We love you guys!”

She added a shamrock emoji.

As of Friday afternoon, the tweet had received over 1,600 likes, while the one from McGraw had received over 1,800.

“I apologize to all the Irish fans for my team’s lack of poise on Sunday,” McGraw tweeted. “We set a high bar for what we expect from these young women and we did not meet those expectations. As an educator, it is my job to use this as a teachable moment and help them see that it’s not always about whether you win or lose but it IS ALWAYS about how you play the game. We will continue to strive to be a team that you can be proud of.”

Ogunbowale was called for both a technical foul — at 4:25 to go after engaging in a verbal exchange with UConn coach Geno Auriemma as an official looked on — and less than three minutes later an unsportsmanlike foul for the way her arm wrapped around Huskie guard Crystal Dangerfield’s head as both players ran up court.

For the most part, Ogunbowale and McGraw politely steered away Friday from questions about Sunday’s controversies, but Ogunbowale did indicate again that she felt Auriemma was attempting — successfully — to bait her.

“I can only speak for myself,” McGraw said when asked whether coaches should be chatting up opposing players in the heat of a game, “and it’s not something that I would do.”

Ogunbowale said there were no incidents between herself and Auriemma in either of two meetings last season — including the national semifinal in which Ogunbowale’s basket with one second left in overtime lifted the Irish to a 91-89 victory.

There is, though, some implied history between the two.

In July of 2014, Ogunbowale, then entering her senior year of high school, tweeted out a list of the final five colleges she was considering, not an uncommon practice among highly recruited prospects.

Putting her choices in alphabetical order, she mentioned Louisville, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA and Wisconsin.

UConn was not among the five.

Fourteen minutes later, Auriemma tweeted, “Stay tuned for my list of the 5 players I saw the past 7 days that I have zero interest in recruiting…. #whatajoke.”

Ogunbowale enters Saturday’s matchup against Toledo (6-2) needing 29 points to become the fifth player in ND women’s history with 2,000.

The Irish (7-1) enter anxious to put the Huskies behind them for now.

McGraw called the team’s practices on Monday and Thursday “really good.” ND took both Tuesday and Wednesday off, which the coach described as “helpful” in the big picture.

“We’ve been working really hard on our defense,” McGraw said Friday. “Today, now we’re in our reading days and thinking about finals, so it wasn’t as good today, but we’ve got to change our mindset (from offensive spurts to sustained defense). It’s going to take some time.”

“I think everybody came back eager to get better and keep our focus,” senior point guard Marina Mabrey said of how the week has gone.

In just her third game of the season after missing the first five with a quadriceps injury, Mabrey played all but 25 seconds against UConn.

On a minutes limit during her first two games, Mabrey’s high in either of those was 23.

She said she felt tired at times Sunday, when she hit just 4-of-13 field goals, but also thankful to have the minutes limit removed.

“If I play 25 minutes, I’ll never be ready to play 39, so I’m just pushing through,” Mabrey said. “If I need 30 seconds or a minute here or there (to rest), that’s better than pacing myself and not playing as hard throughout the 39 minutes, but honestly, I’m going to have to push through. If I get beat a couple times, I get beat a couple times, but I’m just working extra hard to get back up to speed where I used to be, which is, obviously, playing 40 minutes.”

Some of Mabrey’s minutes could increasingly come on the wing rather than at the point with junior Jackie Young also “making good decisions,” according to McGraw and with freshman Jordan Nixon back.

Nixon has been cleared to play after missing the last five games due to a concussion suffered Nov. 17 at DePaul.

“We’re looking to move Marina over to the wing just a little bit more,” McGraw said. “Her ability to stretch the defense just really helps the post.”

Gilbert’s season over

Freshman guard Katlyn Gilbert is out for the season and forward Danielle Patterson is likely to miss at least Saturday’s game.

Gilbert will undergo shoulder surgery sometime after this month’s final exams, according to McGraw, and will maintain four seasons of eligibility with a medical redshirt.

A McDonald’s All-American from Indianapolis, Gilbert injured her already troublesome right shoulder in last week’s win over Iowa.

She had been playing with a harness, and surgery had previously been considered, per the coach, even before she was knocked out of the Iowa game.

McGraw called Patterson “day to day” with possibly a knee sprain, though the coach added that an MRI on the sophomore hadn’t been read yet as of Friday afternoon.

Patterson’s averaging 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds in 13.0 minutes over seven games.

Gilbert was at 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per outing, also in seven games.

Notre Dame’s Katlyn Gilbert (10) drives down the court during the Notre Dame-Lewis University women's basketball exhibition game Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. Toledo (6-2).

WHERE: Savage Arena (7,014), Toledo, Ohio.

WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $20.

TV: ESPN-Plus.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Toledo’s won four straight, all on the road, since a surprisingly lopsided 70-49 loss Nov. 21 at rival Dayton. … The Rockets are led by 6-2 senior center Kaayla McIntyre, who prepped at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo. She’s averaging 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting 59 percent from the field. Junior guard Marielle Santucci is at 11.5 points and 4.6 assists; senior guard Mikaela Boyd 9.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists; and junior guard Sara Rokkanen 8.1 points. Rokkanen has converted 17-of-41 on 3-pointers for 41 percent, but the rest of the team is just 20-of-88 for 23 percent. … Toledo is in its 11th season under former Purdue captain and Evansville head coach Tricia Cullop. The three-time Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year is 226-113 with the Rockets. … Notre Dame leaders include Arike Ogunbowale (24.3 points per game, 3.6 assists), Jackie Young (17.9 ppg, 7.1 rebounds, 4.8 apg), Jessica Shepard (16.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 57 percent from the field), Brianna Turner (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 blocks, 56 percent from the field) and Marina Mabrey (12.7 ppg). … The Irish and Toledo are meeting for the third time in four seasons. ND won 85-68 two years ago at Toledo and 76-54 in November 2015 at Notre Dame. The Irish lead the overall series 5-2, with the Rockets’ last win coming in January 1990.

QUOTING: “Last time we were there two years ago, the crowd was phenomenal, really loud. They played us really tough, so I think we’re expecting a really good game. They’ve got a great inside player, McIntyre. She’s doing a lot of scoring, is really efficient, and then they’ve got a really good shooter in (Rokkanen), so they’ve got a really good inside-outside game.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on Toledo.