Ogunbowale closing in on Diggins' scoring mark

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — In the interest of full disclosure, it’s Beth (Morgan) Cunningham’s record for points per game that continues to kick time’s behind in the Notre Dame women’s basketball record book, but that doesn’t mean she begrudged Skylar Diggins narrowly passing her total-points standard a few years ago, nor that she objects to Arike Ogunbowale being poised to blow past Diggins now.

Rather, as an Irish assistant coach, she wouldn’t mind witnessing records falling left and right.

“I think you expect records to be broken, so it’s just a matter of how long they stand,” Cunningham said Wednesday afternoon as No. 5-ranked Notre Dame warmed up for practice in advance of Thursday night’s visit by Duke.

“You don’t really know who it’s going to be, who’s going to end up having that dynamic of a career,” Cunningham said of possible record-setters, “but I think we always recruit kids who maybe have the potential to do those things.”

It’s a potential that Cunningham saw immediately in Ogunbowale.

“Arike, we knew she was dynamic ever since she set foot on campus,” Cunningham said. “We knew that out of high school, but a lot of things have to go right over the course of a four-year career, but I’m really happy for her, that she’ll have her name on it, because she’s just been a great kid to be around and has just meant so much to our program.”

The player who already cemented her college basketball legacy when she hit game-winning shots in both rounds of the Final Four last spring could have her name on the record that Cunningham is speaking about as soon as her next outing.

Ogunbowale, who is averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-leading 21.1 per game, enters Thursday’s contest with 2,346 career points, leaving her 12 shy of passing Diggins’ 2,357.

While Ogunbowale reminds that a win matters over all else as the Irish (24-3, 11-2) seek to at least stay in a virtual three-way tie for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the topic of where she sets the record is not lost on her, especially with ND’s next game after Thursday being on the road.

“I mean, it would be really cool just having all the fans here to celebrate with, and just everybody who supports me, but especially the fan base,” said Ogunbowale, who has scored at least 12 points in all but one game this season. “They’ve supported me for four years, so hopefully, to be able to do it in front of them, that would be cool.”

Even if the record doesn’t fall Thursday, Ogunbowale will roar past it soon with continued good health. The Irish have three regular-season games left in all, and their intent is to play three more after that in the ACC Tourney, followed by ideally six more in the NCAA Tournament.

Overall, “there are more games these days” than in her days, Cunningham conceded with a shrug Wednesday of her record for total points falling a few years ago.

Cunningham, who finished her ND career in 1997, poured in her 2,322 points across 125 career games, good for an 18.6 average.

Her record for total points stood for 16 years until Diggins broke it in 2013, while her points-per-game figure still hasn’t been seriously threatened.

Ogunbowale is averaging 17.1 points in her career, second to Cunningham.

With a 20.8 average last season on her way to All-American honors, Ogunbowale did break Cunningham’s single-season standard of 20.2, and at 21.1 this season, she’s on pace to surpass her own mark.

Diggins, who is now Diggins-Smith, finished with a 15.7 average during her four-time All-American career, sixth in Irish history, but she accompanied that by also closing at No. 2 on the program’s career assist chart and by setting or matching 31 other assorted records.

“I think both Skylar and Arike are very effervescent, charismatic types of players that just really enjoy and have a passion for the game, a love for the game that I think really sets them apart,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday of the program’s all-time top two point producers.

“They’re both very competitive, they both want to win,” McGraw said. “Skylar’s a very different kind of player than Arike, but both of them, just incredible players.”

Ogunbowale says she doesn’t know Diggins well, but has long admired the South Bend native’s accomplishments.

On Wednesday, Ogunbowale recalled attending as a high school sophomore in 2013 when Diggins and Notre Dame routed Marquette in Ogunbowale’s hometown of Milwaukee.

“That never really crossed my mind,” Ogunbowale said with a laugh of whether she at that point envisioned someday passing Diggins. “I wasn’t committed yet. I was just there enjoying the game.”

Devil of a time

Duke (11-13, 3-9) is already assured of its first losing ACC season in 25 years, ending the best string of .500-or-better finishes by any program in conference history, and is on pace for its first non-winning record overall in 26 years.

The Blue Devils are in jeopardy of not reaching the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in the last 25 seasons.

It’s a program that’s never lost a first-round NCAA Tourney game and one that reached at least the Sweet 16 in 16 of 18 years from 1998 to 2015.

Duke, though, besides graduating a pair of stars off last season’s team in current WNBA players Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, was dealt a devastating setback when promising sophomore guard Mikayla Boykin suffered her second season-ending knee injury in 13 months on Jan. 17.

Boykin missed most of last season, and the first eight games of this season, after tearing her left ACL in December 2017.

She was in just her eighth game back when she tore her right ACL last month.

Boykin was averaging 9.4 points and a team-leading 4.5 assists.

Though the Devils have won just one ACC road game all season, it happened to be 85-69 on Feb. 7 at North Carolina — 11 days after the Tar Heels stunned Notre Dame 78-73.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale needs just 12 points to surpass Skylar Diggins as the Irish all-time leading scorer.

WHO: Duke (11-13, 3-9 ACC) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (24-3, 11-2).

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

WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.

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

TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Every Notre Dame starter is leading the ACC in a major statistical category. Arike Ogunbowale (21.1) is tops in scoring, Jessica Shepard (60.9) in field goal percentage, Marina Mabrey

(47.2) in 3-point percentage, Jackie Young (2.34) in assist-to-turnover ratio and Brianna Turner (2.7) in blocks. … Shepard is also at 15.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, Mabrey 14.6 points and 4.2 assists, Young 14.5 points and 4.8 assists, Turner 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds, and Ogunbowale 4.2 assists and 1.8 steals. … Freshman guard Jordan Nixon remains out with the pulled hamstring she suffered during warm-ups prior to last week’s game at Boston College. … Duke junior guard Haley Gorecki is the only player in the ACC pacing her team in the trio of scoring (18.0 per game; third in the league), rebounding (7.3) and steals (2.9; second in the league). She also ranks first in the league in minutes per game (36.3) and second on the Blue Devils in assists (3.8). Gorecki, though, is at just 45.7 percent on 2s and 27.6 percent on 3s. … Junior forward Leaonna Odom is adding 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per outing. Freshman guard Miela Goodchild is at 10.4 points and is 53-of-117 on 3s for 45.3 percent. … Senior reserve Faith Suggs is the daughter of Shafer Suggs, who starred at Elkhart High and Ball State before five seasons as an NFL defensive back. . … The Irish have beaten Duke 14 straight times to lead the all-time series 16-1.

QUOTING: “(North Carolina State’s) the top rebounding team in the conference, and we outrebounded them (45-28). I think that was the difference in the game. If we can do that every game — because we’re certainly capable, we have a great rebounding team with Bri, Jess, Jackie and when Arike rebounds — we can be really unstoppable.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on her team’s 95-72 win Monday over the No. 9 Wolfpack.