It’s been the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s modus operandi this season – few hands do most of the heavy lifting.
It was on display again Saturday afternoon as the No. 1-seeded Fighting Irish, behind four starters playing 32 or more minutes, held off fourth-seeded Texas A&M 90-84 in the Spokane Regional at the Arena.
Notre Dame (32-3) moves to the Elite Eight and will meet second-seeded Oregon (33-4) Monday night. Tipoff is at 6.
The four players who logged the most minutes – Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, Jackie Young and Jessica Shepard – also scored in double figures. Ogunbowale led with 27 points and five assists; 3-point shooting ace Mabrey had 25 on 7-of-11 shooting behind the arc to go with nine rebounds and three steals; Young had 15 points, six coming in a critical stretch in the fourth quarter; and Shepard had 13.
The foursome has been coach Muffet McGraw’s Iron Horses this season after four players were lost to knee injuries.
“We have a great strength and conditioning program,” McGraw said. “They know they’re going to have to go the distance. Sometimes they rest a little bit on defense because of it.”
The Irish knew they had their hands full when they found themselves trailing 31-19 a minute into the second quarter. The Aggies (26-10) had used an 18-2 run that started midway in the first and spilled into the start of the second.
A 3-pointer from Danni Williams capped the surge, prompting an Irish timeout a minute into the second period.
“We were so worried about (Chennedy) Carter we kept leaving the high post really exposed,” McGraw said. “That’s where (Anriel) Howard was having a field day on us. We tried to go to a couple different things – went to the triangle-and-two, then went back to the zone. They did a really good job early on, especially moving the ball and hitting the open man.”
The Aggies’ lead grew to 13 points before Notre Dame chipped away. It started with Mabrey, who made three 3-pointers in the final 8:49 of the first half.
Carter, the national freshman of the year, alertly grabbed a rebound off a blocked shot for a basket to give A&M a 46-43 lead. The Aggies led 47-45 at intermission.
The momentum the Irish took into halftime followed them into the third quarter.
Another 3-pointer by Mabrey tied the score at 49 and another one gave the Irish the lead for good at 54-51 with 7:10 to go in the period.
Asked why she was so effective shooting the 3-pointer, Mabrey said, “I practice it,” drawing laughter from the media. “When the shots are open, they’re a little bit easier to make. My teammates are finding me in great positions.”
In the fourth quarter, the Irish pushed the lead to nine points twice before back-to-back 3-pointers from Howard pulled the Aggies within 85-82 with 1:40 remaining.
A&M couldn’t get any closer.
Carter finished with a game high 31 points on 10-of-25 shooting along with seven assists. Howard had 26 points and 14 rebounds.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. We played extremely well,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said. “The game was probably lost in the third quarter when we came out flat. They showed the aggression that we were showing in the first and second quarter.”
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