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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale grabs a rebound against Texas A&M's Aja Ellison on Saturday. Notre Dame plays Stanford tonight with a Final Four berth on the line.

Monday, April 01, 2019 1:00 am

Irish, Cardinal have familiarity

Stanford's defense awaits Notre Dame's top-ranked offense

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

NCAA Regional Final

No. 2-seed Stanford vs. No. 1-seed Notre Dame

When: Monday, 9 p.m. 

Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago

TV: ESPN2

CHICAGO – Notre Dame needed a thrilling performance to get past Texas A&M on Saturday and return to the Elite Eight for the third year in a row and the 10th time in program history. 

The Irish (33-3) shot 52.2 percent from the field in their 87-80 victory, while Arike Ogunbowale scored 34 points and Jessica Shepard added 24.

Meanwhile No. 2 seed Stanford, which will face the Irish today in the Chicago Regional final, had to scratch and claw its way to a 55-46 win over Missouri State just to make it out of the Sweet 16. The Cardinal (31-4) was held to just 25 percent shooting while scoring its second-lowest total points (and fewest in a win) all season.

“That was an absolute root canal,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of her team's shooting Saturday night. “I can't ever remember a Stanford team that has struggled so much from the field, not just 3s, but layups. And to move on to the Elite Eight with a game like that, I'm so glad that's not our last game because I really believe we're a lot better than that.”

While Stanford shot poorly Saturday, its defense remained stifling, as has been the case for much of the season.

The Cardinal has given up 60.6 points per game this season and hasn't lost a game in which it allowed 70 points or less. The Irish, meanwhile, lead the nation in scoring, averaging 89.2 points.

“Well, you always want to control the tempo,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Sunday. “We do like to run. We're a transition-type team. I think our offense feeds our defense, which is kind of the opposite of the way it's supposed to go. But we can get out and run. We enjoy playing the game a lot more. We can play half court, and we certainly have some pretty good weapons on offense. But they are a very good defensive team. That'll be a battle.”

Notre Dame and Stanford did not play last season, but the Cardinal knocked the Irish out in the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2017, and Notre Dame won their meeting in the regional semifinal in 2015. 

“I think they're a great program,” Ogunbowale said Sunday. “They have a great coaching staff, and they really are pretty good at scouting. We played each other a lot, so they know our players and they know what we like to do and vice versa. So it's definitely going to be a game of discipline and runs. We're both good teams, so who can execute the game plan better?”

Because of Notre Dame's veteran lineup, the Cardinal has already played against all of Notre Dame's starters aside from Jessica Shepard, a senior who transferred to Notre Dame.

“I thought it was a great game, watching Texas A&M and Notre Dame, two really, really tough teams,” VanDerveer said. “We know that we'll have to play better. They have a great inside game. They have phenomenal individual players, one through five. ... Everyone is back that won a national championship (in 2018), and then they add Brianna Turner to that mix, and they're playing in their backyard. So we know it'll be a big challenge.”

The starting lineup of seniors Ogunbowale, Shepard and Marina Mabrey, and well as graduate student Turner and junior Jackie Young are just eight points away from a combined 10,000 points in their college careers, a milestone they will surely break in today's regional semifinal.

“It's pretty exciting, men's or women's, that's never been done before,” McGraw said. “I think it's just interesting because of the way the class settled in with Bri coming back for the fifth year, Jess coming in. So to go out with them, I mean, that's five All-Americans on the floor at the same time.”

McGraw said Sunday that both Young and Mabrey had gotten “a lot of treatment” and should be ready to go for today's game. Young went to the bench for a short period in Saturday's win after running into a screen and having the wind knocked out of her. Mabrey has scored just five points in the first three rounds of the tournament after hyperextending her knee last month. 

vjacobsen@jg.net