Big trip home to Milwaukee for Notre Dame's Ogunbowale

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

Arike Ogunbowale has hoisted hundreds of shots over the years at Marquette University’s Al McGuire Center — but never one in a game.

That changes Saturday afternoon when the senior All-American, playing in her hometown Milwaukee, and the No. 2-ranked Irish (10-1) face No. 19 Marquette (9-2) in a nationally televised women’s basketball matchup.

“I think it’s just going to be really exciting, especially since I haven’t played at home since high school,” Ogunbowale said Friday morning as ND prepared for a final practice before boarding a bus to Milwaukee. “It’s a chance for all my family and friends to be able to watch me in the city I grew up in.”

There will be plenty of them watching, too.

Ogunbowale’s ticket list numbers nearly 30, and that doesn’t include other friends from high school whom she says bought tickets on their own.

Not a bad turnout given the game is a sellout and the McGuire Center seats just 3,700.

“It’s pretty small, but it’s nice,” Ogunbowale said of an arena that’s been opened to her over the years for some of her summer and winter-break workouts.

Winter break is what all Notre Dame players will get immediately after Saturday’s game.

While the rest of her teammates will be boarding planes from Milwaukee to varying destinations for their four full days off, Ogunbowale plans to hop into a car with her parents for a 15-minute drive home.

“That’s going to be nice,” Ogunbowale said with a wide grin regarding the charmed timing of ND’s trip to Marquette.

“A nice little Christmas present for her,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

McGraw and Notre Dame traditionally try to arrange at least one game in each player’s hometown or at a college near that hometown during that player’s Irish career.

Rarely, though, has a homecoming stirred quite the response that Ogunbowale’s could inspire.

A handful of Milwaukee TV stations have requested pre-game time with the player who not only hit game-winning shots in both rounds of last spring’s Final Four, but who led Divine Savior Holy Angels High School of Milwaukee to a state title in 2014.

“It could be for some people,” McGraw said of whether Saturday’s homecoming will be a distraction from the game for Ogunbowale, “but I don’t know that it will be for her. She’s able to handle a lot of attention, so I don’t expect a big problem for her, but it has been when we’ve taken kids home before and they’ve not handled it well.”

Said Ogunbowale, no stranger to conquering big-stage moments, “I think I’ll be all right.”

Eyeing the Eagles

Saturday could provide big-moment chances because this one’s no novelty game.

Marquette’s won six of its last seven, the lone loss being 87-82 at current No. 4 Mississippi State, and the Golden Eagles have every scorer back from last season’s club that pushed host Notre Dame to overtime before falling 91-85.

“Mississippi State was a one-point game with like eight seconds left, and I just don’t think they get enough respect,” McGraw said of Marquette, rated No. 17 in the coaches’ poll in addition to No. 19 by the Associated Press. “They’re ranked, but I think they should be higher. They have just a great senior group and had a terrific year last year. I think they’re a team that’s probably looking for that big signature win, and playing us at home, sold-out arena ... hopefully, we’ll be able to bring our game.”

The Eagles are led by reigning Big East Player of the Year Allazia Blockton. The 6-foot senior is averaging 18.6 points. A year ago against the Irish, she scored 20 to go with 10 rebounds.

Erika Davenport added 19 points and 16 boards at ND.

The Irish needed a backwards three-point play by since-graduated Kathryn Westbeld — she made the first of two free throws with 44 seconds left, then got a putback basket when she missed the second — to force OT against Marquette last season.

This season, the harrassing Eagles are sixth in the nation in turnover margin, forcing 8.0 more per game than they commit. They’re also 16th in made 3-pointers per game (9.5) and 19th in 3-point percentage (38.4).

“They have great guards who know how to score,” Ogunbowale said. “They bring high energy, so it’s going to be a competitive game.”

Ogunbowale knows some of the Eagles especially well. She was AAU teammates for several years with fellow Milwaukeeans Blockton and Amani Wilborn, and played against Wilborn in high school.

Breaking down break

While Irish players other than Ogunbowale won’t start their breaks already in their hometowns, they’ll get to fly to their chosen destinations soon after the game and don’t have to be back at Notre Dame until Thursday.

“I’m looking forward to some warm weather, spending time with family and having some good, home-cooked meals,” said forward Brianna Turner of heading to the Houston area.

“It’s a short break and it goes fast,” Turner said, “and it’s the last we’ll be home for a few months.”

While they’ve had to remain near campus due to basketball obligations, players have actually been on a break from school since final exams ended Dec. 14.

It’s been a quiet week that some of them don’t mind.

“We love it because it’s just basketball,” junior Jackie Young said. “We spend a lot of time doing that. Other than that, we have team dinners. We all love to shop, so we go to the mall a lot, too.

“Really, it’s just a good time for bonding,” Young continued. “The seniors stay in their apartments, and the underclassmen, we stay in a hotel. We all get to hang out together and have some bonding time.”

Players also can travel if they want, as long as they’re back for practices.

Young, the former Indiana Miss Basketball and the state’s all-time leading high school scorer, took advantage of her exams wrapping up early to surprise freshman sister Kiare at the latter’s Oakland City College game Dec. 12 against visiting Indiana-Southeast.

“She’s doing pretty good, and had a pretty good game that night (14 points, four steals),” Jackie said of her sister and the Mighty Oaks’ 77-75 NCAA Division II win. “She’s really adjusting to the college level and it’s been fun to watch, because there were so many people that didn’t think she could play at the next level. So for her to be there and me to watch, it’s an amazing feeling for a proud big sister.”

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (24) drives against Iowa’s Makenzie Meyer (3) during the Thursday’s game in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) needs 22 points for 1,000 in her career, and if she gets there Saturday, ND and Marquette will be the only women’s teams in the country with five active 1,000-point scorers.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (10-1) vs. No. 19 Marquette (9-2).

WHERE: Al McGuire Center (3,700), Milwaukee.

WHEN: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET.

TICKETS: Sold out.

TV: FS1.

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

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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Marquette’s 19-1 at home over the last two years, the only loss a 74-73 decision last season against Creighton. … Golden Eagle leaders include Allazia Blockton (18.6 points per game, 21-of-51 on 3-pointers), Natisha Hiedeman (14.7 ppg, 5.8 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game), Danielle King (10.6 ppg, 1.9 spg), Erika Davenport (10.6 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game), Amani Wilborn (9.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Isabelle Spingola (8.8 ppg, 26-of-52 on 3-pointers). All are seniors except Spingola, a junior. … Notre Dame seniors Marina Mabrey and Jessica Shepard have streaks of perfection going. Mabrey hasn’t committed a turnover in her last two games, that against 13 assists and six steals no less,  along with scoring 41 points in 48 minutes. She’s 16-of-23 from the field in those outings, including 6-of-9 on 3-pointers. Shepard has made 15 straight field goals over her last two-plus games to stand two makes short of Carly Poor’s program standard of 17 over parts of three games in February and March of 1994. … ND leaders include senior Arike Ogunbowale (22.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg), junior Jackie Young (17.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.8 apg), Shepard (16.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 62.5 percent from the field), Mabrey (15.0 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Brianna Turner (12.6 points, 7.7 rpg, 1.9 blocks). … Young needs 22 points for 1,000 in her career, and if she gets there Saturday, ND and Marquette will be the only women’s teams in the country with five active 1,000-point scorers. ... The Irish have won five straight matchups since the Eagles’ March 2009 win and lead the all-time series 33-6, though five of Marquette’s victories have come in 17 home tries.

QUOTING: “Just the fact all five out there can score. There’s nobody you can lay off of. Then four of them are really good 3-point scorers, so that creates problems if you want to play zone. They can take you off the dribble. They’re so fast. Their transition game is as good as anybody we’ve seen.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Marquette’s offense.