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Irish Move On to Elite 8

Despite the loss off leading rebounder/scorer Brianna Turner to injury, top-seeded Notre Dame handles Ohio State, 99-76, at Rupp Arena in Lexington on Friday night.

There was obvious concern when the Irish found out that Turner was out for the rest of the tournament after she tore her ACL in the second-round victory over Purdue. But, hey, the Irish had been there before. Notre Dame (33-3) had played without the junior for several games during her first two seasons in South Bend as she dealt with a shoulder injury. One of those games just happened to be a victory over the Buckeyes at home last season. It’s just that Notre Dame would rather not have to do it.

But the squad showed that it was more than capable of rising to the challenge over No. 5-seeded Ohio State (28-7)…and did so in historic fashion. Leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale took 22 shots – the most by any Irish player this year – and connected on 11 of them for a career-high 32 points. It tied her for third-best in NCAA tournament play by the Irish, and she added nine rebounds. The sophomore had plenty of help.

Rookies Erin Boley, who hails from Kentucky and started in place of Turner, and Jackie Young had 14 and 13 points, respectively, while sophomore Marina Mabrey scored 16. Senior Lindsay Allen posted a double double with 16 points and 10 assists, as did junior Kathryn Westbeld who had 10 points and 11 rebounds. The 99 points scored by the team are the most ever in an NCAA tournament game in program history.

Ten Ohio State players logged minutes in the game but just one – Kelsey Mitchell – had a double-digit scoring effort. She led the Buckeyes with 18 points and six assists, while Shayla Cooper chipped in nine points to go with 13 rebounds.

"I'm just so proud of this team right now, especially our freshmen and sophomores," said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. "Our young players stepped up in a big game. I thought Erin played her best game of the season. Arike with a career high in a huge game without Bri. It was a struggle for us this week trying to overcome that. Just so proud of the resilience of this team."

The Buckeyes kept the contest close early on, and even held a one-point advantage after the end of the first period, 25-24. But then the Irish started to create some separation, beginning with a pair of three pointers early in the second period. By intermission, Notre Dame had a 50-42 cushion.

With 7:21 left in the third, Ohio State cut that lead in half and then the Irish went to work. Less than a minute later, Notre Dame had pushed the advantage back up to nine. At the end of three periods, the Irish had dropped 80 points on the Buckeyes with five players already in double digits while Mitchell, one of the most dynamic guards in the country, never took a shot.

The final 10 minutes proved to be more of the same as Notre Dame left little double as to who would be advancing to the regional final.

“We had so many kids step up tonight,” added associate head coach Beth Cunningham. “I don’t think you could find a happier locker room right now, and no one is more happy than Bri.”

The Irish will face No. 2-seed Stanford at noon on Sunday with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The game will be a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 in which the Cardinal upset Notre Dame in a game also played at Rupp Arena.

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