Notre Dame scored six seconds into its opening game of the women’s NCAA tournament on Saturday and never looked back in a comfortable 92-50 win over Bethune-Cookman in South Bend.
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It was the kind of performance expected of a No. 1 seed and Final Four favorite against a No. 16 making its first trip to the NCAA tournament.
No team has dominated over the last five weeks like Notre Dame, the defending NCAA champion. Since losing to Miami on Feb. 7, the Irish have won 10 straight by an average of 30 points per game. That stretch includes wins over NCAA tournament teams Syracuse (twice), NC State, North Carolina, Florida State and fellow No. 1 seed Louisville.
Saturday, the Irish did what they do best: pushed the ball in transition, shared the ball and dominated in the lane. Post players Jessica Shepard and Brianna Turner combined for 41 points (on 17-for-25 shooting) and 22 rebounds. Arike Ogunbowale led Notre Dame with 23 points.
Not surprisingly, the game was decided early. Notre Dame jumped to a 29-12 lead after one quarter and then scored the first eight points of the second to put it away. Twenty-six of the Irish’s first 37 points came in the paint, and Notre Dame finished with 58 points inside 15 feet.
The Irish, who rank fourth in the country with 20.6 assists per game, had 24 assists on their 36 field goals. The Irish dominated in the same way in the ACC tournament, winning by an average of 21 points per game en route to the title.
All five starters average at least 13.5 PPG this season, so the most surprising part of Saturday’s win was senior Marina Mabrey failing to score (0-for-3 from field, seven assists).
With nine points and 11 rebounds, 6-foot-3 sophomore Mikayla Vaughn more than compensated and provided some bench production that Notre Dame hasn’t always gotten but might need later in the tournament.