Noie: Special night for a special player as Arike Ogunbowale breaks scoring record

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In a sport dictated and dominated by numbers — three seconds, four quarters, five-on-five, 40 minutes — only one really mattered Thursday for No. 5 Notre Dame in its Atlantic Coast Conference contest home game against Duke.


Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale needed 12 points to become the all-time leading scorer in program history. With Notre Dame having won its previous six league home games by an average of 32.6 points, the record was the only story line. Notre Dame (25-3, 12-2) was going to win. The only question was by how much? How about by 28, 89-61.

With the outcome never in doubt, the other question was how quickly could Ogunbowale deliver a dozen? First quarter? Second? Just hurry up and do it — deadline was closing quickly.

First 12 minutes quick enough? Yep.

"She didn't waste any time; she didn't keep us in suspense too long," said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. "What a momentous day. She was really on point today. Just a great job."

Ogunbowale made a steal on one end, pushed the pace and pulled up from just inside the free throw line for the record-breaking bucket with 8:49 left in the second quarter. It was vintage Ogunbowale. Play fast. Shoot fast. Finish. A 20-second standing ovation followed career points 2,357 and 2,358.

Now with 2,371 points in her career, Ogunbowale had to get the record Thursday. Notre Dame’s next game is Monday in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. This was a moment that needed to happen at home, in an arena where Ogunbowale has spent so many hours, squeezed off so many shots, spilled so much sweat, maybe even some blood and tears.

"It's just really a blessing," Ogunbowale said. "It's an honor to do it at this school."

During the first timeout following Ogunbowale’s record-setting shot, a highlight video of the top scoring moments of her career — including THAT shot — played overhead. Many of the Irish reserves stood near the bench and watched.

Another ovation followed. Ogunbowale’s family, in from Wisconsin, was shown in the stands. Ogunbowale remained on the bench locked in and listening to instructions. It still was about winning the game for her. All that other stuff, the individual stuff, she had no time for that. Not yet.

"Just focused on the game," Ogunbowale said of her approach. "Not really worried about that, just trying to get a win."

The only time she seemingly was chill was when she slapped hands with former teammates Lindsay Allen and Mychal Johnson, seated in the front row, on the way to the locker room at half. By then, she had 19 points, and the Irish led by 17.

Ogunbowale finished with 25 points, the 51st time in her collegiate career she’s hit for at least 20.

Ogunbowale played other sports growing up in Milwaukee, but she was born to carry out one simple basketball task — score. From inside and out. On the break or in the half court. With a hand in her face or wide open. Like they say on any court around, she just gets buckets. Lots of buckets. Barrels full of buckets.

It’s fascinating to watch her get the ball, get up the floor, get to the rim and get the ball in the basket. Sometimes, it also can be frustrating. Ogunbowale might have an open teammate on this wing or that one, but you can just tell that the ball’s not leaving her hands until it’s going up. Going in. It’s what makes her, well, her.

"She has quite a legacy," said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie. "Arike is quite a competitor. We didn't have any illusions we'd be stopping her tonight."

Heading into Thursday, the 5-foot-8 Ogunbowale had attempted 167 more shots and scored 162 more points than the next closest teammate in those categories. Yet she also was second on the squad with 114 assists. She shares it a lot, but she scores it a lot more. All this while closing in on 4,000 career minutes. That’s a lot of mileage on her tires.

Word from Notre Dame this week was that the player whose record Ogunbowale broke Thursday, former Washington High School and Irish standout Skylar Diggins-Smith, was unavailable for comment. She has more important matters on her mind. Six years ago, she became the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,357). Now she’s about to give birth for the first time.

Diggins wished Ogunbowale good luck in a text before the game.

Ogunbowale’s record might stand a few years. She was able to hit her current point total by scoring 398 as a freshman. This season’s four-player freshman class had a combined 157 before Thursday. Anyone who might make a run at Ogunbowale’s mark isn’t on the roster. That girl might still be in high school. Maybe even middle school. Or younger.

Only Austin Carr has scored more points in school basketball history. His mark of 2,560 points is within Ogunbowale’s reach. But comparing those points and those players doesn’t compare.

Carr averaged 34.5 points in his career doing work without the luxury of a 3-point line. He also played in an era when freshmen were ineligible. Give him four years and the 3-point line and he’d likely put up numbers nobody ever could touch.

Carr played in 74 career games. Thursday was No. 138 for Ogunbowale.

Only two regular-season games remain for Notre Dame. Then two more for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament after the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Then that will be it for Ogunbowale in Purcell Pavilion.

She and the Irish will be off to Chicago or Greensboro (again) for the NCAA Tournament regionals. Then maybe even on to Tampa and back to the Final Four, where a run at a title repeat would await. After that, it’s off to the WNBA as a top-10 pick. More games. More buckets. More points.

Get out and see her while you can. It might be a long time — a very long time — until we see someone like her again, someone whose first name means “something that you see and you cherish.”

Same can be said about her game.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (24) shoots the Notre Dame women's career scoring record breaking shot during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA women's basketball game Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at Purcell Pavilion on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend.