For the second consecutive season, the Ohio State women’s basketball team had its season ended in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. The Buckeyes fell to their region’s top seed, Notre Dame, 99-76, on Friday night at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
Ohio State’s drought of advancing beyond the Sweet 16 will continue another year. The last time the program went further was in 1993, when the scarlet and gray lost in the tournament championship game to Texas Tech.
The Irish, without All-American Brianna Turner who tore her ACL in the team’s last game, was electric from the three-point line, making 12 from deep in the game. Arike Ogunbowale led the way, scoring a career-high 32 points that included four threes. Six of the seven Notre Dame players who saw action finished in double figures, setting a program record for points in an NCAA tourney game.
The Buckeyes didn’t exactly struggle, shooting over 40 percent from the floor and hitting nine threes in the game, but 12 turnovers and a 42-30 deficit on the glass was too much to overcome. All-American Kelsey Mitchell scored 10 first quarter points, but was limited to just eight the rest of the way, finishing with a team-high 18.
Ohio State’s lone senior, Shayla Cooper narrowly missed a double-double in her final collegiate game, scoring nine points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the losing effort.
With the win, the Irish move on to the Elite Eight, where they will face the winner of tonight’s matchup between second-seeded Stanford and third-seeded Texas on Sunday.
Marina Mabrey and Mitchell got the scoring started in the game’s first minute, each knocking down a shot from three-point range, but both sides were ice cold until the media timeout with four minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Ohio State hit just three of its first 10 shots and turned it over four times, while Notre Dame connected on only three of its first 12 attempts from the floor. At the first stoppage, the Irish led 10-7.
When play resumed, shots started to fall. Erin Boley knocked down a three for Notre Dame, but was answered by consecutive triples from Linnae Harper and Asia Doss. After Stephanie Mavunga scored her first bucket in a month and a half after missing time with a foot injury, Mitchell hit another three and Makayla Waterman made a jumper, to give the Buckeyes a 25-21 lead. A three-pointer from Ogunbowale as the buzzer sounded on the period closed that gap to 25-24, and we had ourselves a game.
Ogunbowale kicked off the second in the exact same fashion, knocking down a three, and Mabrey hit two more of her own on consecutive trips down the floor, as the Irish reclaimed the lead, 33-27, prompting an Ohio State timeout.
The early shooting struggles became a distant memory, with both sides scoring seemingly at will. Boley and Ogunbowale hit another pair from beyond the arc for Notre Dame, while Mitchell and Cooper tried to keep the Buckeyes in contact, combining to score eight points through the first six minutes of the frame. But a pair of free throws by Lindsay Allen gave the Irish their largest lead at 45-35.
A Boley jumper and an old-fashioned three-point play by Ogunbowale continued the onslaught, but a second three in the half by Doss and a layup by Mavunga stopped the bleeding momentarily. By the time the teams headed to the locker room, Notre Dame held a 50-42 advantage.
Mitchell scored 12 to lead Ohio State, while Doss added six and Cooper had four points and 10 rebounds. Ogunbowale put up 17 points to lead all scorers, and also grabbed a team-high five boards, as the Irish hit on eight of 13 three-point attempts.
The Buckeyes went big to start the third quarter, and it led to quick buckets from Alexa Hart and McCoy. Cooper then hit a three and Sierra Calhoun pulled down an offensive rebound and made the putback, cutting the deficit to 55-51 and forcing Notre Dame to call a timeout.
The hot shooting for the Irish from long range continued, though, with Mabrey hitting again and Boley making two in a row. Jackie Young got a basket in the paint, and the lead was once again double digits at 65-53.
Mitchell failed to score in the quarter, and while Hart and McCoy each took advantage of Turner’s absence inside and Harper splashed another three, Ohio State couldn’t cut into the lead. A Young and-one sent Notre Dame to the final period up 80-65.
Each team only hit one bucket in the first two minutes of the fourth, but Calhoun made another three and Ogunbowale scored four points in quick succession, and the Irish continued to roll, up 86-70 with six and a half minutes remaining. Mitchell continued to be a non-factor, taking and missing two shots.
Mitchell finally scored her first points of the half on an and-one, but Ogunbowale answered with yet another make from three-point range, and the rout was on. The Buckeyes would never trail by fewer than 20 the rest of the way.
While the loss is a disappointment, it should in no way detract from how successful this season has been for the program. At 28-7, and with nearly the entire roster set to return next year, Ohio State is positioned to be a factor both in the Big Ten and on the national scene with the Final Four being played in Columbus.