Second-half scoring burst sends Notre Dame women's team back to Final Four

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHICAGO — Pack the shorts and the sun screen and shades. Maybe stash a floppy hat in the checked luggage if there’s one around.

Notre Dame is headed to Florida later this week and back to another NCAA Women’s Final Four.

A 13-point turnaround — from down seven at half to up six at the end of the third quarter — helped book the Irish (34-3) for a charter flight to Tampa late Tuesday night following an 84-68 victory over No. 2 seed Stanford (31-5) in the championship of the Chicago Regional late Monday at Wintrust Arena.

Jackie Young led the Irish with 25 points. Arike Ogunbowale added 21. Ogunbowale was named most outstanding player of the Chicago Regional, though Young arguably was the best player on the court Monday.

"It was just staying aggressive," Young said of her big game at a big time. "I had to take what the defense gave me, just had to stay aggressive."

Notre Dame was the final piece to the Final Four puzzle. Earlier in the night, fellow No. 1 seed Baylor won its regional final in Greensboro, N.C. Those teams join a pair of No. 2 seeds — Connecticut and Oregon — this week in Florida.

Notre Dame and Connecticut will meet in a Friday semifinal at approximately 9:30 p.m. The Huskies beat the Irish by 18 back at Purcell Pavilion in December.

"We're not celebrating yet," Ogunbowale said after an on-court celebration that included pictures and souvenir hats and t-shirts and the ceremonial cutting down of the nets. "We know there's a long way to go."

Young got going when the Irish needed it most in the third quarter. Battling from behind most of the night, Notre Dame took its first lead since early in the second quarter thanks to two quick buckets in the lane from Young. Her second, part of a 6-0 run, made it 47-44, which to that point tied Notre Dame’s largest lead of the game.

Young returned out of the timeout with a free throw to put the Irish up four. Then it went to six on an Abby Prohaska drive. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was wandering to start the half was rolling.

The burst got the top-seeded Irish — and most of the building — believing.

After laboring for 26 points the first two quarters, Notre Dame hit for 26 in the momentum-swinging third quarter. A lot of that was Young here and Young there and Young everywhere. She scored nine points and had six rebounds in that 10-minute segment when everything turned.

"It definitely feels good to see those shots fall," Young said. "After that, I was able to get comfortable and get going."

Notre Dame shot 70.6 percent in the third quarter, 57.9 percent in the fourth.

One possession nearly halfway through the fourth quarter told the tale of how good Young was when she needed to be. The Irish were going nowhere fast with the shot clock running down. Marina Mabrey and Ogunbowale jammed up one corner of the court, making a pass to either impossible. Young tried to get it inside, but that wasn’t happening. Finally, she just decided to take her defender off the dribble and get to the rim. She did, with ease, and floated in a left-handed layup to push the Irish up by 10, 66-56.

Monday’s game fell on the one-year anniversary to the day of Notre Dame’s 2018 national championship. It also marked the second straight season that the Irish played for the final spot in the Final Four. Last year, they beat Oregon in Spokane, Wash., before a red-eye flight home from the Inland Northwest. On Monday, it was a charter bus ride 100 miles along the Indiana Toll Road — also in the middle of the night by the time everything ended on the south end of the big city.

Down by as many as nine in the opening minute of the third quarter, Notre Dame looked to finally find its offensive flow. It got stops, it got out in the open court. It got some easy looks and made them. The Irish got back within one following a Mabrey lay-in, which capped a 6-0 spurt, with 4:16 left in the third quarter.

If Notre Dame was going to extend its season and get back to the Final Four, it would have to erase its largest deficit of the tournament. The Irish trailed by seven, 33-26, after a frustrating first half. Notre Dame found it hard to make shots and hard to get stops. Stanford shot 57 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3 in the second quarter.

"We knew we had 20 minutes left and our shots eventually were going to fall," Young said.

The final possession of the half kind of summed everything up for the Irish. Jessica Shepard had a point-blank lay-in that rolled around and bounced back out at the horn. Notre Dame missed its last seven shots and went scoreless over the final 2:42 of the half.

The seven-point halftime deficit for Notre Dame was its largest since trailing Oregon State by nine way back on Nov. 24. The Irish roared back to win that one by 10.

Notre Dame shot only 25.6 percent the first 20 minutes. That was the first time in 13 games that it failed to make at least 46.6 percent of its first-half looks. The last time the Irish shot that poorly, they connected on only 37.3 percent in a game at Miami (Fla.). That also was their last regular-season loss.

Notre Dame’s starting five entered Monday with a combined 9,992 career points. It hit the magical 10,000-mark — something no starting five in men’s or women’s college basketball ever has done — on a Brianna Turner turnaround jumper late in the first quarter.

"It's really amazing," coach Muffet McGraw said of the record.

The Irish managed a season-low 11 points in the opening quarter, one that saw them hit only four of its 20 shots those first 10 minutes.

Stanford entered Monday’s game having won four of five in the series against Notre Dame. The last two wins both were in the NCAA tournament — in 2016 and 2017 — in Lexington, Ky. The Cardinal also had won 12 straight following a Feb. 10 loss to Final Four-bound Oregon.

Earlier Monday, the Associated Press All-American teams were announced — with nobody from Notre Dame on the five-member first team. Ogunbowale was a preseason first-team selection. She earned second team honors Monday. Shepard and Young were third-team honorees.

"We didn't really come to college to do individual accolades," Ogunbowale said. "We play great team basketball. We're not focused on anything individual. We want to get team wins.

"That's what we did."

STANFORD (31-5): Dodson 2-9 0-0 4, Smith 5-11 2-4 14, Carrington 7-17 2-2 18, Lac. Hull 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 8-22 0-0 20, Lex. Hull 3-6 0-0 8, Jerome 0-0 0-0 0, Moschkau 0-0 0-0 0, Coffee 1-1 0-0 2, Brewer 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-68 4-6 68.<

NOTRE DAME (34-3): Shepard 5-12 1-1 11, Turner 7-10 0-0 14, Mabrey 3-11 0-0 7, Ogunbowale 6-19 7-7 21, Young 9-19 7-8 25, Cosgrove 0-0 0-0 0, Patterson 0-0 0-0 0, Vaughn 1-2 0-0 2, Nixon 0-0 0-0 0, Prohaska 2-2 0-0 4, Totals 33-75 15-16 84.<

Stanford;13;20;13;22;—;68

Notre Dame;11;15;26;32;—;84

3-Point Goals—Stanford 10-22 (Smith 2-5, Carrington 2-5, Williams 4-8, Lex. Hull 2-4), Notre Dame 3-10 (Mabrey 1-4, Ogunbowale 2-6). Assists—Stanford 12 (Smith 3), Notre Dame 17 (Mabrey 6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Stanford 38 (Smith 8), Notre Dame 48 (Shepard 14). Total Fouls—Stanford 12, Notre Dame 10. Technical Fouls—None.A—5,555.

Notre Dame players celebrate with a championship trophy after defeating Stanford 84-68 in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Monday in Chicago.
Notre Dame's Jackie Young (5) drives against Stanford in the NCAA tournament Monday in Chicago.