The Irish won games against Virginia Tech and North Carolina State this week to finish out the regular season. This brought them to a 15-1 conference record and a tie with Louisville for the regular season ACC title. Since joining the conference, the Irish have won five consecutive regular season titles, four consecutive ACC Tournaments, and all but three of their conference games. Not too shabby! This week they will have a chance to add that fifth consecutive tournament title.

Game 1: Virginia Tech at #5 ND

The week started with the Irish hosting Virginia Tech on Thursday. Arike Ogunbowale connected on the opening basket, but Virginia Tech had an answer. They continued to respond throughout the first quarter, keeping the game fairly even. The Hokies were having a good day from distance, connecting on three of four three-point attempts to take a 15-11 lead. Ogunbowale was on fire in the first quarter, including the next stretch of the game when she made two three-pointers in a row, followed by a steal and layup to give the Irish a 21-19 lead. At the end of the quarter, ND led 26-24. After a back and forth first quarter, the game was never really close again. The Irish kicked off the second quarter with a 12-0 run to take a 14 point lead and never looked back. They found their footing on defense and made everything hard for Virginia Tech. While the Hokies were able to settle in and not let the lead grow for the rest of the quarter, the damage had already been done. The Irish held a 45-32 lead at halftime.

Despite some issues with missed layups in this game, the Irish were able to grow the lead in the third quarter. Jackie Young played extremely well, and bailed her teammates out on several of the missed layups by collecting offensive rebounds and getting putbacks. As the lead continued to grow, Kathryn Westbeld also scored her 1,000th career point. She is the third to do so this season, following Mabrey and Ogunbowale. The Irish led by 23 after the third quarter. With good passing and solid defense, the lead only grew during the final quarter. Once again, all three walk-ons saw playing time, and two of the three scored. ND won with a final score of 89-59, and several impressive individual performances. Ogunbowale led the scoring with 26 points. Marina Mabrey finished just shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. Jackie Young added a double-double of her own with 12 points and 10 rebounds (6 offensive). Once again, turnovers and points in the paint made the difference in this game. The Irish scored 24 points off of turnovers compared to Virginia Tech’s 3, and also outscored the Hokies in the paint 32-8.

Game 2: #21 NC State at #5 ND

Sunday was Senior Day for the Irish, with a pregame ceremony honoring Kathryn Westbeld, Kristina Nelson, Mychal Johnson, and Lili Thompson. Westbeld, Nelson, and Thompson have all used up their eligibility, but there is a possibility that Johnson could return next season since her injury occurred before the start of this season. She has not made the decision at this point. Brianna Turner is also part of the senior class, but did not participate in the ceremony since she is expected to return next season. As is expected on Senior Day, both teams started off a little cold. After missing a few shots apiece, they started to settle in. It was a close game throughout the first quarter, trading the lead with nobody able to pull away. Early in the quarter, Jackie Young removed the mask she has been wearing to protect her broken nose and played the rest of the game without it. Both teams struggled with turnovers in the quarter, but ND took a slight 17-16 lead by its end. The Irish seemed poised to pull away as the second quarter began. They were very active on defense and were passing well. The lead grew to 25-17, forcing an NC State timeout to stop the run. The Irish led by as many as 11 before taking a 39-31 lead into halftime. Ogunbowale came out strong with 13 first half points, and the Irish shot an impressive 69% in the second quarter.

NC State used halftime to regroup, and began closing the gap early in the third quarter. They cut the lead down to three points at 41-38 and it appeared that we were going to go back to the lead trading of the first quarter. However, ND did some regrouping of their own and grew the lead back to double digits fairly quickly. NC State had some untimely turnovers in this period, and ND was able to capitalize. By the end of the quarter, the Irish had established a comfortable 66-49 lead. They stretched this to 73-49 early in the fourth, leading to another NC State timeout. The Irish held a fairly steady lead for the rest of the game. Ogunbowale’s 21 points made this her 19th 20-point game of the season as the Irish won 86-67. With their 23rd straight home win, they clinched their share of the ACC title. Four of the five starters scored in double figures, with Young’s 22, Mabrey’s 17, and Westbeld’s 16 points joining Ogunbowale’s 21.

Awards & Watchlists

The Irish’s winning ways aren’t going unnoticed. Several awards and watchlists were announced this week and ND is well represented. Ogunbowale was named one of ten semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy for player of the year. She is also one of five finalists for the first year of the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for the nation’s top shooting guard. Muffet McGraw was named one of the ten semifinalists for the Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year. All three of these awards will have a fan voting component at the finalist level, so stay tuned!

The All-ACC Team was also named this week. The Blue Ribbon Panel selected Ogunbowale and Shepard for the first team and Mabrey for the second team. The ACC coaches chose Ogunbowale and Mabrey for the first team and Shepard for the second team. Hard to go wrong with those three.

Burger Basket Leaderboard (Season 2)

(At Notre Dame home games where the Irish score 88 points or more, the fans in attendance receive coupons for a free burger. I’m tracking which player is responsible for feeding the fans the most often over the course of the season).

We didn’t get a clear leader this week, but we are adding a new name to the list! Connecting on two free throws for the 88th and 89th points of Thursday’s win over Virginia Tech, junior walk-on Maureen Butler earned a spot on the leaderboard. Unfortunately, the Irish were two points shy of collecting another burger basket on Sunday.

While the regular season winners are Mabrey and Nelson, we’re not done tracking yet. The Irish are expected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, so somebody could take the outright title then.

Marina Mabrey – 2

Kristina Nelson – 2

Maureen Butler – 1

Arike Ogunbowale – 1

Danielle Patterson – 1

Lili Thompson – 1

Coming Up

While the regular season has come to a close, the excitement of tournament season lies ahead. The ACC Tournament will begin tonight, but as the #2 team in the conference the Irish have secured a double-bye. Their first game of the tournament will come at 6:00 on Friday, when they will play Georgia Tech, Clemson, or Virginia, depending on the outcomes of the games the first two days.