Nov. 20, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
The No. 1 Notre Dame women’s basketball team has several trophies it hopes to win this season and it received a challenge worthy of claiming a trophy on Sunday afternoon in defeating No. 17 Washington, 71-60, to claim the Preseason WNIT championship.
Final Four participants in 2016, the Huskies (3-1) brought the nation’s fifth-ranked offense (93.3 points per game) to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center but the Irish (4-0) proved to be up to the challenge, opening the game on a 12-0 run and not looking back. The Irish never trailed by fewer than nine points after the first quarter, fending off several spurts from their opponents in the process, and walked off of its home court with a trophy in-hand.
Arike Ogunbowale was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while Lindsay Allen also earned a spot on the all-tournament team. Ogunbowale capped a strong four-game run with a team-high 17 points on Sunday, including five rebounds, four steals and three assists. Allen scored 13 points today with four assists and five rebounds. Meanwhile, her steady leadership helped the Irish in a close semifinal contest against Green Bay in particular.
Two other Irish players considered but not named to the all-tournament team added significantly to today’s win. Brianna Turner had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Kathryn Westbeld scored 14 points while adding in eight rebounds with three assists and three steals.
Opening Spurt Keys Victory
Notre Dame did not waste any time establishing its control of Sunday’s contest, scoring each of the game’s first 12 points en route to a 25-8 lead after the first quarter. Washington committed four turnovers and missed its first four shots before Kelsey Plum drained a three at the 5:39 mark. With the score 4-0, four consecutive steals by Westbeld, Marina Mabrey (twice) and Ogunbowale led to four buckets at the other end and the 12-0 Irish cushion.
“I thought we got off to a great start,” said Kevin and Karen Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw. “I thought that was the key to the game. We came out firing. Arike was on and she really got good shots. I thought her shot selection was particularly good today.”
“That 25-8 start was a big punch in the mouth,” Washington head coach Mike Neighbors said. “The environment here is tremendous. We’re not used to playing in front of 8,100 people. That had a lot to do with our ability to communicate. We made some uncharacteristic decisions which to me means we were under a little bit of stress completely because of they were prepared and the way they play.”
Play of the Day
The Irish led 22-8 with about 20 seconds left in the first quarter but that lead would be extended before the buzzer in thrilling fashion. Turner and Westbeld collapsed quickly to double team Chantel Osahor in the paint, forcing a hurried pass which was stolen by Mychal Johnson. The Irish pushed it up the floor and Allen dished it to Jackie Young for a wide-open three, giving the Irish a 25-8 lead after one.
See it in slow-motion here:
Coach McGraw Says
On Notre Dame’s defense against the high-scoring Huskies: “After last game (a 71-67 win over Green Bay), I think it was a giant step forwards. I think last game was not anywhere near where we wanted it to be. (Washington) were an equally-good three-point shooting team so I was happy that we didn’t leave them alone too often on the three-point line.”
In addition to holding the Huskies to a season-low 60 points, Notre Dame also did fine work against All-American guard Kelsey Plum. Entering the game as the nation’s third-leading scorer at 30.0 points per game, Plum tallied just 22 today, shooting only 7-of-19 from the floor, and committed six turnovers.
The Irish have a quick turn-around before flying to Houston on Monday afternoon. Notre Dame will face Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in the Campbell Center as a Homecoming game for Turner. A native of near-by Pearland, Turner was named the Gatorade National High School Female Athlete of the Year in 2014 at Manvel High School.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball and men’s golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.