SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Top seed Notre Dame was just too big and strong for tournament newcomer Bethune-Cookman.
Arike Ogunowale scored 23 points and Jessica Shepard had a double-double in the Fighting Irish’s 92-50 rout of the 16th-seeded Lady Wildcats on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought our posts did well with the advantage inside,” McGraw said after the Irish (31-3), champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, won their 10th straight to move into Monday’s second round against Michigan State.
Bethune-Cookman was down to nine players because of various injuries, including several with knee injuries.
“We can certainly appreciate the adversity they faced,” said McGraw, whose team faced injury issues last year in its NCAA title run. “They gave all they had. We were able to get the ball inside when we wanted to.”
The 6-foot-4 Shepard, who had her 15th double-double of the season by halftime, finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, her 55th double-double in a career that started at Nebraska in 2015.
“The coaches asked our guards to get the ball inside and they did a good job getting it to us,” Shepard said after hitting nine of 15 shots and adding four assists.
Brianna Turner, a 6-foot-3 forward who sat out last season’s NCAA title run with an ACL injury, just missed a double-double by one rebound, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, nine rebounds and five blocks.
Sophomore reserve Mikayla Vaughn, who also sat out last season’s championship run with an ACL injury, had nine points and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame, which won the board battle 48-28 to allow the Irish transition game to dominate with 54.5-percent shooting (36 of 66) and 24 assists.
“I think we’re all excited whoever’s in the game,” Turner said. “I think Mik came to play today.”
Notre Dame’s height advantage was just too much for Bethune-Cookman.
“Their starting five’s size is about the size of our men’s starting five,” Lady Wildcats coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis said. “It was tough for us to get the ball inside to any of our players.”
Ogunbowale hit 8-of-15 shots while adding four assists and three steals for the Fighting Irish, who also got 11 points from starter Jackie Young, the only junior in Notre Dame’s senior-dominated lineup. Notre Dame’s other starter, Marina Mabrey, was limited with a wrap on a hyperextended knee and scored zero points but did dish out a team-high seven assists.
“March Madness is the most fun time of the year and it’s the last go around for us seniors,” Ogunbowale said. “We don’t want to leave anything behind. No regrets.”
Angel Golden had 25 points for Blair-Lewis’ Lady Wildcats (21-11), who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament and were playing in their first NCAA Tournament ever.
“They made it difficult because they played their (2-3) zone out more,” Golden said after launching 22 shots, 20 from beyond the 3-point line (she made six) as Turner, Shepard and Vaughn made things tough inside. The Lady Wildcats finished shooting 26.7 percent (16 of 60).
The Irish used their 39th run of 10 points or better — 25-0, their longest spurt of the season - to take control of the game midway through the first quarter on way to a 51-19 halftime lead.
Bethune-Cookman, which left 80-degree temperatures behind in their Daytona Beach, Florida home, was cold for nearly nine minutes as Notre Dame increased a 29-12 first-quarter lead to 47-12 on Young’s drive to the basket with 3:15 left. McGraw was able to rest her starters for much of the second quarter as Shepard scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, Ogunbowale had 14 points and Turner had 11 points with four rebounds and four blocks.
Bethune-Cookman: The Lady Wildcats never led but were down just 9-7 with 5:36 left in the first quarter when they went cold. They went 8:59 between baskets in the first half before Golden drained her third 3-pointer with 2:49 to play in the first half to finish with a 7-4 run. Bethune-Cookman shot just 16.7 percent (3 of 18) in the second quarter.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish once again showed off their transition game, outrebounding Bethune-Cookman 29-11 and outscoring the Lady Wildcats 30-6 in the paint thanks to 14 assists on 20 field goals.
Notre Dame plays Michigan State, which edged Central Michigan 88-87.
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