Notre Dame women rock Bethune-Cookman

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The win looked easy. The week’s been anything but.

Shaking off a handful of dicey days that threatened the availability of at least three Notre Dame players right in front of the NCAA Tournament, the Irish began defense of their national title with a 92-50 women’s basketball victory over Bethune-Cookman on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Top-seeded ND (31-3) will host No. 9 seed Michigan State (21-11) in the second round, Monday night at 7 EDT. ESPN has the telecast.

The Spartans survived eight seed Central Michigan, 88-87, in Saturday’s second game.

Jessica Sheppard, who was diagnosed with strep throat four days earlier, overpowered BCU with 22 points and 13 rebounds across 26 minutes.

“Not at this time of the year,” Shepard said of whether she feared not being able to play. “I don’t think it would’ve mattered if I was sick or not, but I got diagnosed with the strep on Tuesday, and then we had Wednesday off, so it gave me time to rest up a little bit.

“It’s strep,” said Shep with a shrug, adding that it’s something she’s dealt with several times. “You just kind of go with it.”

Senior point guard Marina Mabrey (knee) and freshman reserve Abby Prohaska (ankle) were able to go as well, though their statuses had been uncertain, too.

Mabrey suffered a hyperextension to her right knee Monday, coach Muffet McGraw confirmed Saturday, and didn’t return to practice until Friday, and only then on a limited basis.

While she didn’t score in 23 minutes, Mabrey still dealt a game-high seven assists, made three steals and didn’t appear significantly compromised in her cutting.

“We didn’t know if we would have her today or not,” McGraw said. “(Trainer Anne Marquez) did a great job of getting her ready. … I think she’s fine now, but we’re gonna keep watching her.”

Prohaska, besides injuring a finger early in the week, suffered a sprained ankle Thursday. She still contributed 20 minutes off the bench during a game in which the Irish were able to substitute liberally.

“You wouldn’t have wanted to live with me this week,” McGraw said of her admitted frustration over the ill-timed outbreak of setbacks. “I think (husband) Matt’s hair went completely gray.”

Nonetheless, there was little that was gray about Notre Dame’s first-round dominance.

Arike Ogunbowale and Brianna Turner in particular joined Shepard in feasting on the overmatched Wildcats (21-11).

Ogunbowale scored 23 points, dished four assists and made three steals in 27 minutes.

“It’s been two weeks since our last game and I think everybody was just eager to get out there,” Ogunbowale said after the Irish won their 10th straight game, all by at least 18 points. “We definitely took care of business.”

Turner had 19 points and blocked five shots over 23 minutes while hitting 8-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 at the line.

She added nine rebounds, leaving her at 999 for her career, tied for second on the all-time Irish list with Letitia Bowen, just eight behind Ruth Riley.

“We knew we had the height advantage,” Turner said after ND outscored Bethune 58-10 in the paint and 20-3 on second-chance points, “whether that was high-low or just going directly in, and Coach really emphasized it in practice the past few days. I think we really took what we learned in practice and implemented it into the game today.”

The Irish already led 22-12 late in the first quarter when they set sail on a season-best 25-0 run of nearly nine minutes that stretched the spread to 47-12 at the 3:15 mark of the second period.

ND was up 74-35 by the end of the third quarter and 82-39 when the last of the starters came out for good at 6:49 to go in the game.

“They are the defending national champion for a reason,” BCU coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis said. “Their starting five’s size (seemed) about the size of our starting men’s team’s size, so it was difficult to match up, and all of them are capable of doing a myriad of things, so it’s not like you just have to stop one aspect of their game.”

While McGraw said the Irish played well overall, she added that she was “disappointed” in her team’s defensive intensity, even though the Wildcats shot just 27 percent from the field.

“We worked for a couple days on finding one player specifically in all our defensive drills,” the coach said, referring to BCU senior guard Angel Golden, “and I thought we did a decent job in practice, but today we lost sight of her quite a few times. I thought we could’ve done better. I thought there was a lack of awareness at times, both on the wing and at the top of the zone.”

Golden scored exactly half the Wildcats’ points with 25, upping her season average to 19.9, but was just 6-of-20 on 3-pointers to go with 5-of-7 at the line.

“It was pretty difficult for me,” Golden said. “They were long and they (brought) their zone out more.”

Sophomore forward Amaya Scott grabbed 12 rebounds for 16th-seeded BCU, which was nonetheless outrebounded 49-28 in its first-ever NCAA Tourney game.

For Notre Dame, sophomore Mikayla Vaughn narrowly missed her first career double-double with nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.

Excluding the recent game that junior star Jackie Young didn’t start because it was Senior Day, Vaughn’s effort paced ND’s reserves to their best output in their last 11 outings with 17 points.

“Mikayla did a great job,” McGraw said. “I thought she was reading the defense. … She was active on the boards. Defensively, I thought she was talking. Just really happy with the way she played at both ends.”

The Irish recorded their most lopsided NCAA Tournament win since beating Robert Morris 93-42 in the first round five years ago and won their 15th straight tourney home game

BETHUNE-COOKMAN (21-11): Ball 1-3 0-0 3, Brown 0-6 2-2 2, Scott 3-6 0-0 6, Golden 7-22 5-7 25, Harris 2-8 0-0 5, Jones 1-2 0-0 2, Fincher 0-8 2-2 2, Walker 1-2 0-0 2, White 1-3 0-0 3, Totals 16-60 9-11 50.

NOTRE DAME (31-3): Shepard 9-15 4-4 22, Turner 8-10 3-4 19, Mabrey 0-3 0-0 0, Ogunbowale 8-15 5-5 23, Young 4-9 2-2 11, Butler 0-0 0-0 0, Cosgrove 1-2 0-0 3, Patterson 0-2 0-0 0, Vaughn 4-8 1-1 9, Benz 0-0 0-0 0, Nixon 1-1 0-2 3, Prohaska 1-1 0-0 2, Totals 36-66 15-18 92.

Bethune-Cookman 12 7 16 15 —50

Notre Dame 29 22 23 18 —92

3-Point Goals—Bethune-Cookman 9-34 (Ball 1-3, Golden 6-20, Harris 1-3, Fincher 0-5, White 1-3), Notre Dame 5-10 (Mabrey 0-3, Ogunbowale 2-3, Young 1-1, Cosgrove 1-2, Nixon 1-1). Assists—Bethune-Cookman 11 (Harris 5), Notre Dame 24 (Mabrey 7). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Bethune-Cookman 28 (Scott 12), Notre Dame 49 (Shepard 13). Total Fouls—Bethune-Cookman 16, Notre Dame 9. Technical Fouls—None.A—7,885.

Notre Dame’s Jackie Young drives against Bethune-Cookman’s Tania White during Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale passes the ball around Bethune-Cookman’s Armani Walker during an NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Saturday.
Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard grabs a rebound in front of Bethune-Cookman’s Angel Golden during a first-round NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Saturday.