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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 31, 2019 1:00 am

NCAA Women Notre Dame 87 Texas A&M 80

Irish again best Aggies to advance

Teams faced off last year in the Sweet 16 with same results

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

CHICAGO – After Notre Dame eliminated Texas A&M 87-80 Saturday in the Sweet 16 for the second time in two years, Aggies coach Gary Blair said the game was just what women's college basketball needed.

“They don't need double-digit wins and all of that,” Blair said, comparing his team's loss to the six Sweet 16 games played before his, five of which were decided by 10 points or more. “We lost the game probably because of the paint points that they got, whether it was Arike (Ogunbowale) posting up or their two bigs inside. This is why they're better this year than they were last year.”

Notre Dame's victory at Wintrust Arena wasn't certain until the last minute, as two of the most exciting players in the game in Ogunbowale, who hit two game-winners for Notre Dame in the 2018 Final Four, and Chennedy Carter, the Aggie sophomore, battled to a draw. 

Carter scored a game-high 35 points, hitting seven 3s, including some that seemed like they were launched from the scorer's table. 

“We had lots of ideas, and none of them worked,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of attempting to guard Carter. “Double-teaming was the last idea, and I thought it was a little more effective when we remembered to do it. But she's really hard to guard. She might be the best individual player that we've played all year.”

Ogunbowale scored 34 points, 24 of them in the second half, including several off of her three steals. But as Carter and Ogunbowale traded highlight-reel worthy shots, it was the play of Notre Dame's other players, most notably Jessica Shepard, that made the difference. The senior had a double-double, scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.

Notre Dame (33-3) was dominant on the boards, out-rebounding Texas A&M (26-8) 45-28 and outscored the Aggies in the paint, 52-42.

“I think we really have five All-Americans on the court,” Ogunbowale said. “Even if they didn't put us on the list, we have five All-Americans on the court, and playing with everybody that can score 30 on any given night, each one of us is just amazing, and I think that's credit to the coaches recruiting us and developing us.”

Brianna Turner, who was out last season with a knee injury, added 12 points and six rebounds. 

Jackie Young scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half, including a shot from the paint that tied the game 67-67 early in the second quarter and then a drive to the basket to put the Irish up by two. The Aggies tied the game once more before Ogunbowale hit her lone 3-pointer of the game to put Notre Dame ahead for good. 

Young guarded Carter for much of the game, although she did leave the game for a few minutes after having the wind knocked out of her when she was hit on a screen.

“I kept looking down the bench, waiting for the trainer to give me the word she could come back into the game, and she came up big,” McGraw said. “She did a much better job in the second half, I thought, on Carter. She struggled a bit in the first half, as we all did, but I thought in the second half, especially late down the stretch, she did a better job.”

After the game, both Notre Dame and Texas A&M players noted that the scariest thing about this Aggies team is that they will likely be back and more experienced next season, as their starting lineup includes four sophomores and a junior. But this year, at least, the veteran defending national champions prevailed once more. 

“They played damn good,” Blair said of the Irish. “We played almost damn good.”

vjacobsen@jg.net