Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 23 of 63

24 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI T hroughout the 2017-18 Notre Dame women's basketball sea- son, as one injury after another pared the roster down to seven scholarship players, there was a ral- lying cry from the Fighting Irish fan- dom in January, February and even early March: Just wait until next year! Never in head coach Muffet Mc- Graw's 32 seasons would she have a roster more loaded for bear — and to unseat the Connecticut dynasty — than in 2018-19. Now that it achieved the feat a year "ahead of schedule," there are at least four reasons why Notre Dame likely will be favored to repeat as the national champions next season: • All three starters from the nation's premier backcourt return, headlined by All-American and newly established NCAA basketball legend Arike Ogun- bowale, whose 20.8 scoring average set a single-season Notre Dame record. Joining her are All-ACC selection Marina Mabrey (14.4 points per game) and Jackie Young (14.5), who McGraw believes has the all-around skills to be the best to ever play for her. Few teams ever — men, women, NBA — return 50 points per game in their backcourt. • Up front, All-ACC pick Jessica Shepard (15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game) is now joined by 2017 WBCA and USBWA All-American Brianna Turner — also an Associated Press sec- ond-team All-American — who was redshirted this season while rehabbing from her March 2017 ACL tear. The 6-3 Turner's numbers as a ju- nior (15.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) rivaled Shepard's, but what she adds to the arsenal is a shot-blocking presence, which is why she was twice named ACC Defensive Player of the Year (2016 and 2017). They should complement each other in the high-low game. Shepard is a stellar passer in the Princeton of- fense, and can drill the outside shot (she converted 28 threes in her soph- omore year at Nebraska), which she was not asked to do this year because of the need for a threat in the paint. With Connecticut graduating Gabby Williams and the 6-6 Azura Stevens surprisingly opting to turn pro, Baylor's combination of 6-7 Ka- lani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox is the lone "Twin Tower" tandem that rivals Notre Dame's. Furthermore, the Irish add 6-3 Mi- kayla Vaughn — who is recovering well from her ACL tear last Novem- ber. As a freshman, she displayed instant moxie and impact in the six games she played prior to her in- jury, including 17 points and seven rebounds in a hard-fought win at Western Kentucky, and eight points Encore! Encore! The 2018-19 Irish are projected to be even more talented and deeper, and will likely be favored to repeat The return of injured All-American forward Brianna Turner (third from the left) will provide the Fighting Irish with a huge boost in their title defense next year. PHOTO BY MIKE BENNETT

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