Saturday, December 10, 2016

COLUMN- Notre Dame repaved its path in the Windy City

                                 Photo Credit: Geno Green

In the game of life, no one can get too comfortable.

The moment when anyone feels at ease should be the moment to hit the panic button.

For the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, complacency set in with a lackluster effort in the first half that led to a 72-61 loss to the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies on Dec. 7.

Being humbled can bring the best out of a team and the Irish (9-2) responded with fury in a 75-61 win over regional rival, the No. 16 DePaul Blue Demons (6-3) at McGrath-Phillips Arena on Saturday night.

The Irish started out fast in the first ten minutes as the Blue Demons could not solve the assertive Arike Ogunbowale as she scored 13 of her team-high 17 points. 

Ogunbowale wanted to get back into a groove after being held to nine points on 4-of-14 shooting in the UConn game.

"I needed to get back into my flow from the UConn game given it was rough, so I was able to settle back in," Ogunbowale said.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw believed Ogunbowale's off-night motivated her for a quick start.

"I think [Arike] came out on a mission and everyone was focused in intensity at practice prior and I knew she was going to come out and be ready," McGraw said.

Jacqui Grant's two early fouls aided in the cause as Notre Dame ed DePaul, 19-15 after ten minutes.

The second quarter saw more light open up for Notre Dame as DePaul would go down another starter as Jessica January injured her ankle at the 7:14 mark, but would come back in the game before the end of the half.

With the majority of DePaul's second unit on the floor, Notre Dame kept its pedal to the medal with a 29-22 lead at the 4:24 mark. 

DePaul went into the bonus, but missed 14 of its last 16 field goal attempts to end the first half as Notre Dame clinged to a 33-27 lead.

Notre Dame's defense let its foot off the pedal as DePaul's Brooke Schulte drained back-to-back triples in 51 seconds to even the game at 33. The slow start felt like a replay of the first quarter of the Connecticut game once more.

Like a television rerun, DePaul found itself in foul trouble once more with Millender and Grant at four fouls late in the third quarter. Notre Dame seized the moment and went on a 7-0 run over a 3:19 stretch to take a 45-38 lead.

The Irish remained in control for the rest of the game as it won by double digits for the seventh time this season.

Irish held January in check:

The Notre Dame defense held the BIG EAST Player of the Year Jessica January to 19 points, on 8-of-23 shooting and gave her matchup problems throughout the game.

Before scoring eight points in the fourth quarter, the first three were a maze for January as she Mychal Johnson and Ogunbowale were the primary players on January and stayed on her like super glue throughout.

"[Jessica] is a great player and is so hard to guard and can score in so many different ways," McGraw said. "Late in the game, she made every shot down the stretch and is a phenomenal player despite the result."

Notre Dame looked like one of the elite teams in the country at DePaul, but can it keep the engine going all the way through March?

Only time will tell.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.