Notre Dame slams Spartans to reach Sweet 16

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

Hard to tell which was more prevailing in the first half — all the justified causes Notre Dame had to smile, or how the Irish wouldn’t.

All business in all facets, ND made sure this game was all over by the intermission.

The Irish roared to a 91-63 whipping of Michigan State in Monday’s NCAA Tournament second-round women’s basketball game as 6,694 fans at Purcell Pavilion watched ND punch its 10th consecutive Sweet 16 ticket.

“Maybe we were just that focused that we forgot to smile,” Brianna Turner said with a shrug of whether she was aware how game-faced ND appeared in this one, “but I’m really excited, and Saturday (in the next round), smiles or not, we’re going to be focused and ready to go.”

Arike Ogunbowale scored a game-high 23 points and dealt five assists to lead a parade of prolific performances for Notre Dame.

Jackie Young added 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Jessica Shepard checked in with 19 points, nine boards and three steals. Turner collected 14 points, 11 boards and four blocked shots on her way to becoming the program’s all-time leading rebounder.

“I think we played almost with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder today,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought defensively we were a lot more active, a lot more aware of where the shooters were. … I was really pleased with how we guarded them.”

“I don’t know if there’s a more veteran team on the planet than them,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said of ND. “They’re coming off a national championship and their power is hard to simulate.”

Top-seeded Notre Dame (32-3) faces No. 4 seed Texas A&M (26-7) in a Chicago Regional semifinal Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

The game will be at 4 or 6:30 p.m. ET, and it will mark the second straight year that the Irish and Aggies square off in the third round. Last season, ND beat A&M 90-84 in Spokane, Wash.

Against the ninth-seeded Spartans (21-12), the Irish stormed to a 52-26 lead by the break.

“We knew from the jump that they thought they could play with us,” Shepard said, “so we knew it was important to come out with a lot of momentum to kind of break them down.”

Young, demonstrating a ruthless edge from almost the outset, racked up 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots in the evening’s only half of consequence.

“Going into the game, as hard as Arike is to guard and the power they have inside, (Young) was the one we worried the most about,” Merchant said. “She is just very, very strong … and can control her body. We kept saying we’re gonna take charges on her. About four of my girls had her coming at ’em, and they were like (no). I was about to be mad at ’em, but I was like, I probably would’ve made the same choice, too.”

Shepard added 14 points in ND’s overpowering first half, Ogunbowale 13, and Turner eight points and nine rebounds.

It was Turner’s last rebound of the half that made her ND’s all-time leader at 1,008, one ahead of Hall of Famer and 2001 graduate Ruth Riley. Turner stands at 1,010.

She called the record more meaningful because of who previously held it.

“Ruth Riley’s the most humble person I’ve met in my whole entire life, in my 22 years of existence,” said Turner, who’s also 11 short of matching Riley’s blocked-shot standard at 370. “I’ve never met anyone like (her). She’s just so down to earth, so calm, so patient.

"I remember my freshman year, she used to practice with us. … She always told me if I ever need anything from her, I can always text her.”

The Irish seemingly needed nothing from anybody while on the court against MSU.

After Shepard scored on a slick fast-break feed from Young to make the count 45-20 with 3:32 to go in the second quarter, she backpedaled with an extended clap and piercing eyes as she locked in for the next defensive set.

Then when Turner scored 33 seconds later on a precise high-low feed from Shepard, the smile that Shepard let out may have been the first in-game discernable one by an ND player.

It was good timing, as it capped a 19-1 spree over a span of 5:27 that left the hosts up 47-20.

Over the opening two quarters, the Irish outscored the Spartans 32-12 in the paint, outscored them 8-0 on second-chance points and outrebounded them 31-17.

Notre Dame hit 50 percent of its shots from the field in those two periods while using a blend of defenses to harass Michigan State into just 29 percent.

“It was six to six for about an hour and a half,” McGraw said of the game’s last tie, which did last from the 8:06 to 6:08 mark of the opening quarter, “and then I think everybody settled down and we really got off to a pretty good flow offensively. Really, really happy with the way we rotated on defense, and I thought we rebounded extremely well.”

For ND’s record-shattering senior foursome of Ogunbowale, Shepard, Turner and Marina Mabrey, it was their final home game.

“It’s been amazing being able to play in front of these great fans for four years,” Ogunbowale said. “They are so supportive and I am going to miss this gym. Time went by really fast. It feels like I was just a freshman.”

The Irish registered their 16th straight NCAA Tourney home win since falling to Minnesota in 2009.

They pushed their current overall winning streak to 11 games, with the average margin over that stretch being 29.8 and the closest spread being 18.

Ogunbowale, already Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, surpassed the 2,500 mark. She’s at 2,517.

Sophomore Sidney Cooks led Michigan State with 17 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

Jenna Allen, the Spartans’ only senior, added 12 points.

Junior Shay Colley dealt eight assists, but was 2-of-15 from the field on her way to five points.

Young took a nasty spill when fouled with three seconds left in the third quarter and came out after her ensuing free throws, but returned in the fourth period and insisted later that she was fine.

“Nothing to worry about,” Young said. “That’s just basketball. They’re going to foul hard. We’re used to it.”

Saturday’s other regional semifinal in Chicago will pit No. 2 seed Stanford or seventh seed Brigham Young against 11th-seeded Missouri State, which upset third seed Iowa State, 69-60, on Monday. The Stanford-BYU game began at 11 p.m. Monday.

The Chicago Regional final is set for 9 p.m. ET next Monday.

Sweet home, Chicago

There was delirium among Irish fans when it was made official just over a week ago that Notre Dame was indeed placed in the Chicago Region of the bracket.

Of course, that was all about upcoming proximity, not necessarily past potency.

The Irish have no NCAA Tournament history in Chicago, and the regular-season history they have there isn’t one in which they’ve overwhelmed the opposition.

ND has won its last four games in Chicago, all of them against DePaul, including this season’s 101-77 victory a little over four months ago at Wintrust Arena, and hasn’t lost in the Windy City since February 2011, also against the Blue Demons.

Overall, though, the Irish are just 25-17 in Chicago, including 16-9 under coach Muffet McGraw.

ND’s opponent for over half of those Chicago games has been DePaul. The Irish own a 10-11 mark in such matchups, including 7-8 under McGraw.

As for its other games in Chicago, ND is 9-2 against Loyola (7-1 with McGraw), 5-1 against Illinois-Chicago (2-0 with McGraw), 1-0 against the University of Chicago, 0-1 against Rutgers, 0-1 against Virginia and 0-1 against UCLA.

While those last three mentioned opponents entail neutral-site matchups, Saturday’s game will be Notre Dame’s first-ever postseason contest in Chicago.

Other than being at home, ND’s closest NCAA Tourney games to campus until now have been three in West Lafayette (2-1), two in Indianapolis (1-1) and two in Toledo, Ohio (2-0).

MICHIGAN ST. (21-12): Gaines 0-4 0-0 0, Allen 5-12 2-3 12, Clouden 2-7 2-4 8, Colley 2-15 1-2 5, McCutcheon 0-2 0-0 0, Belles 5-9 0-0 10, Cook 0-0 0-0 0, Cooks 8-12 0-0 17, Hollie 1-2 1-2 3, Ozment 2-3 2-2 8, Hendrickson 0-1 0-0 0, Jacqmain 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-67 8-13 63.

NOTRE DAME (32-3): Shepard 9-15 1-2 19, Turner 5-7 4-5 14, Mabrey 1-6 0-0 2, Ogunbowale 8-17 5-6 23, Young 7-14 6-9 21, Butler 1-1 0-0 2, Cosgrove 1-1 0-0 3, Patterson 1-2 1-2 3, Vaughn 2-6 0-1 4, Benz 0-1 0-0 0, Nixon 0-1 0-0 0, Prohaska 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 35-73 17-25 91.

Michigan St. ;14 ;12 ;17 ;20 — 63

Notre Dame ;25 ;27 ;21 ;18 — 91

3-Point Goals—Michigan St. 5-19 (Gaines 0-3, Allen 0-2, Clouden 2-3, Colley 0-4, McCutcheon 0-2, Cooks 1-1, Ozment 2-3, Hendrickson 0-1), Notre Dame 4-13 (Mabrey 0-4, Ogunbowale 2-4, Young 1-1, Cosgrove 1-1, Benz 0-1, Nixon 0-1, Prohaska 0-1). Assists—Michigan St. 18 (Colley 8), Notre Dame 20 (Young 7). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Michigan St. 34 (Cooks 12), Notre Dame 46 (Turner 11). Total Fouls—Michigan St. 16, Notre Dame 14. Technical Fouls—None.A—6,694.

Michigan State’s Jenna Allen (33) looks for a shot with pressure from Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (11) during a second-round NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Monday night.
Notre Dame’s Jackie Young (5) blocks a shot by Michigan State’s Shay Colley (0) during a second-round NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Monday.
Michigan State’s Jenna Allen, center, gets pressure from Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, left, and Abby Prohaska during a second-round NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Monday.