By Kathleen Cohen
Chicago, IL — Top-seeded Notre Dame (33-3) and No. 4 seed Texas A&M (26-8) were back right where they were at this time last year — facing off in the Sweet 16. It was neck-in-neck all night, but the defending national champion Fighting Irish, led by last year’s final four hero Arike Ogunbowale, were able to defeat the Aggies with an 87-80 win and punch their ticket to the next round.
Notre Dame’s Head Coach, Muffet McGraw, knew to watch out for Texas A&M’s guard Chennedy Charter during Saturday night’s regional Sweet 16 semifinal game and she was right.
Carter missed the SEC tournament after injuring her pinky finger, but she returned to the court in full force tonight, scoring 16 points in the first 20 minutes of the game. Yet, it wasn’t enough to outplay Notre Dame’s Ogunbowale, who finished with a career-high 34 points. 24 of which came in the second half.
“They played damn good. We played almost damn good,” stated Texas A&M’s Head Coach Gary Blair.
Ogunbowale made two of the biggest shots in last years games and was able to play her heart out again tonight. Scoring 12 of her 24 second half points coming in the final 6:45 of action.
“The bigger the moment, the bigger she plays,” said coach Muffet McGraw. “We ran a lot of sets for her and she responded incredibly well.”
Late in the game, Ogunbowale’s hunger drove her to snatch the ball right away right before the Aggies eyes. She converted on the end of the coast-to-coast play but then immediately was whistled for a taunting technical. Despite the tech, her emotion was evident the entire game as she carried her Fighting Irish team.
Carter and the Aggies did not go down without a fight. She would finish the game with a season-high 35 points, however took 34 shots to get there. The sophomore guard came into the contest averaging a little over 30 points per game in her 5 career games in the NCAA tournament.
“We had a lot of ideas and none of them worked… she’s really hard to guard,” McGraw stated. “She might be the best individual player we’ve played all year.”
Carter finished with a game-high 35 points, including seven three-pointers.
Blair said he’s thrilled about how close this game. In a press conference, he said,” It was a tremendous game. This is what women’s basketball is all about…”
“[I’m] proud of them… we’re sophomores going against seniors and potential draft picks…. I’m proud of my team,” Carter said after the game despite being knocked out of the tournament.
Both coaches agreed the competitive, close game made for great women’s basketball.
“It’s great for people to turn on and see competitive games at every level. We had a few yesterday and probably a few more today,” McGraw stated.
Notre Dame awaits its opponent in Monday’s regional final.