Saturday, March 30, 2019

Green’s five takeaways from Notre Dame’s 87-80 win over Texas A&M in the regional semifinal round

Photo Credit: Robin Alam- Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The first of two Chicago regional semifinals delivered as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish escaped against the Texas A&M Aggies 87-80, behind a 12-point fourth quarter from Arike Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale’s career-high 34 points highlights my five takeaways from Wintrust Arena.

1) Ogunbowale’s world:

With a tense atmosphere in the fourth quarter with each possession as a potential momentum swing, Arike Ogunbowale grabbed the moment by the horns with a steal and layup as the crowd came unglued and served as a turning point as the Irish took a 74-69 lead with 6:07 left in regulation.

“That play was big. It was a real momentum changer,” Ogunbowale said. “It made them call a time-out, and we had the crowd going crazy, so that definitely was good for us, the energy.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is used to the superstar making clutch plays on offense, but liked the change of pace by making a stop on defense.

“Arike wins it with a defensive stop, I think that should be the headline,” McGraw said.

The momentum stayed in the Fighting Irish’s favor as they did not trail for the remainder of the game for their closest outcome since the 72-65 loss at Miami (FL) on Feb. 7, which was their last loss.

2) The Chennedy Carter show:

Despite dazzling the crowd with one high-arching three-point make after another, Chennedy Carter’s game-high 35 points proved to not be the ultimate takeaway as the Aggies came up short.

The sophomore embraced her teammates after the buzzer about the effort given for all 40 minutes.

“We’re a group of sophomores going against seniors and potential WNBA draft picks,” Carter said. “I was so proud of the way we fought tonight and we fought for all four quarters and left it all on the court. We’re young and growing and told them that we’ll be back and make a statement again next season.”

3) Shepard’s stability:

Jessica Shepard finished with her 16thdouble-double of the season (24 points and 14 rebounds), but it would be a stretch off 11 straight points in the first quarter to help stabilize the Irish in a game where each play was mattered.

“I think we knew our offense would get going at some point, so I think in that quarter they did a great job of getting me the ball and then just finishing strong inside,” Shepard said.

Shepard’s stretch proved to also be critical as the Irish missed five of their first six shots of the game and will be needed to continue to produce if they want to repeat as tournament champions.

4) Frenetic pace of play:

From the opening tip, both teams turned the pace up to the extreme as the lead exchanged on 14 occasions in the first 20 minutes of action.

Both teams finished at a high level from the field with the Fighting Irish going 36-of-69 (52 percent), while the Aggies went 32-of-69 (46 percent).

Notre Dame’s 52 percent shooting was the most Texas A&M gave up on any opponent this season. Blair believed a pair of field goal makes in the first 50 seconds of the third quarter highlighted the Aggies’ difficulties of stopping the Fighting Irish.

“The role, the transition baskets. I think they hit four points in a row and I had to use another time-out, I thought that was the key right there. We just couldn’t stop them from scoring,” Blair said.

5) Women’s basketball showcased on a high level:

The NCAA women’s tournament has been known in the past to have only a handful teams with a realistic chance of winning the national championship. Saturday’s contest proved to be the opposite as the outcome hinged on a possession-to-possession basis. 

Even in defeat, Aggies coach Gary Blair liked the intensity of the contest from the start to finish as opposed to a non-competitive affair.

This is what women’s basketball needs right now,” Blair said. “They don’t need the double-digit wins and all of that. We lost the ball game because of the paint points [Notre Dame] got. This is why they are better this year than they were last year.”

McGraw echoed similar feelings about the increased parity in the women’s game.

“I think it is great for the game for viewers to turn on the TV and see competitive games played at every level,” McGraw said. “We had a couple of competitive games yesterday and I think it is good for the women’s game to see parity.”