By Kathleen Cohen
Chicago, IL — It wasn’t just a chilly evening outside Wintrust Arena in Chicago — it was an equally cold start for number one seed Notre Dame (34-3) as they faced off against number two seed Stanford (31-5).
Monday night’s Elite Eight match-up was filled, yet again, with a sea of green, as Notre Dame fans filled the arena in what’s being called the team’s backyard. The Fighting Irish’s home court in South Bend, Indiana is about 100 miles away from the Windy City, whereas Stanford wasn’t represented as strong in the arena.
After Notre Dame’s senior guard, Arike Ogunbowale, had a season-high 34 points against Texas A&M Saturday, she only managed to shoot 1-for-6 from the field in the first quarter tonight. That went to prove it was a slow start for the Fighting Irish who goes off of her energetic play.
It wasn’t just the Fighting Irish that faced challenges early in the game, though. The Cardinals and Irish both started off shooting less than 20%. But, by the end of the opening period, Stanford held a two-point advantage, 13-11.
It was a chess match between two great legendary coaches, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer. The last time the two met in the tournament, VanDerveer coached her team to the victory, stunning McGraw and her team. Tonight, the Cardinal was headed down the same path again — especially Kiana Williams who was the catalyst for Stanford as her team took the lead entering half time, 33-26.
Notre Dame’s struggle continued into the locker room, as they were down by seven at half. During half time, McGraw gave her team a pep talk in order to help them defend their national championship title.
“We talked mostly about what we were doing wrong, not so much what they were doing. We needed to box out so we could get our transition game going. We were getting great shots, we just weren’t making them. So it was really just about relaxing, take our shots, keep doing the same thing,” McGraw stated.
McGraw said her team was “standing around too much” the first half and needed to move the ball. That was the turning point in Monday’s game. The ladies came out of the locker room ready to show they deserved to advance to the Final Four.
The Fighting Irish took what Coach McGraw said to heart, bouncing back and having a slam dunk second half, averaging a 70% shooting rate. Notre Dame outscored Stanford 26-13 in the third frame behind the play of Jackie Young. Young was unstoppable as she continued to get deep in the paint for the layup or draw the foul and head to the free-throw line.
The cheering from the sea of green erupted as they mounted their comeback, after starting off nine points down in the start of the third quarter.
With the final period underway, Stanford fought back for a chance to get to Tampa Bay for the Final Four, but Notre Dame was too much. Shots the Fighting Irish missed in the first two periods were now going in and there was no looking back. The defending champions came out on top, 84-68.
“I’m just really happy that we came out on top,” exclaimed Marina Mabrey after the win. “We struggled in the first half, but I’m just so happy we were able to get over that hump. I feel like the Elite Eight game is always the hardest one.”
“But we did not do a good enough job defensively, head coach Vanderveer said following the loss. “We fouled them too much, putting them at the free-throw line. They shot 16 free throws, we shot six. They got on the O-boards, dominated that, especially in the second half. I don’t know the numbers, first half, first or second half, but that was something they did. And we turned the ball over too much.
“I thought we competed very hard and very well, but they were the better team today for 40 minutes,” she continued. “We did it for 20, and we didn’t get it done in the third quarter, in the second half.
The Fighting Irish still have a chance to defend their title as they are headed to the Final Four. Notre Dame will face off against their old foe UConn, on Friday, April 5 in Tampa Bay.