Coach Muffet McGraw, top-seed Notre Dame and the home fans held their collective breaths when Jackie Young lost hers during Monday’s 91-63 victory over No. 9 Michigan State in a second-round NCAA Chicago Regional game.
“I’m fine, just a hard foul, nothing to worry about – that’s just basketball,” said Young, who came within three assists of her third triple-double of the season, settling for 21 points and 11 rebounds to match double-doubles with Brianna Turner (14 points and 11 rebounds) for the Fighting Irish (32-3).
“I thought she might have had a concussion . she just got the wind knocked out of her,” McGraw said after Young was fouled by Michigan State’s Tory Ozment with three seconds left in the third quarter of the runaway victory over the Spartans (21-12). Young got up, missed her first free throw, made her second and then went to the bench.
Young returned in the fourth quarter and filled out an impressive line in the box score — 7-of-14 shooting, six of her 11 rebounds on the offensive boards, seven assists, one steal, two blocks.
“I think she’s more confident now,” Michigan State senior center Jenna Allen, whose southern Indiana high school team of Bedford North Lawrence beat Young’s Princeton High 60-29 four seasons ago. “I think her offensive rebounding is the big piece of her game where she’s really improved. She’s just an all-around great player.”
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant thinks Young is the one most responsible for the late-season surge by the Irish – it was their 11th straight victory that put McGraw’s team in its 10th straight Sweet Sixteen this Saturday at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena against No. 4-seed Texas A&M. Notre Dame’s starters outscored Michigan State’s 79-25.
“She’s the one that wins them championships,” Merchant said of Young, a 6-foot junior who won most valuable player honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. “She’s one of the most powerful, strongest girls I’ve coached against. Give Notre Dame credit. I’m not sure there is a more veteran team on the planet coming off their national championship.”
Young’s older teammates have become believers.
“If I had made a couple I missed, she would have had a triple-double; Jackie is awesome,” Turner said after becoming Notre Dame’s all-time leading rebounder at 1,010, passing All-American Ruth Riley from the 2001 NCAA champions.
Turner, Young and Shepard combined for 21 rebounds as Notre Dame had a 49-37 edge on the boards to offset a 47.9-percent shooting effort (35 of 73). The Irish did have 20 assists on their 35 field goals.
For the second straight game, Michigan State was led by Sidney Cooks, who came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 12 rebounds. Allen had tears after closing her Michigan State career with 12 points. Kayla Belles scored 10. The Spartans shot just 37.3 percent (25 of 67) for the game.
Young showed off her versatility in the first half that Notre Dame dominated 52-26. She scored 13 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out five assists and had two blocks while also holding Taryn McCutcheon to zero points when McGraw elected to play some man-to-man rather than Notre Dame’s normal 2-3 zone.
Shepard led Notre Dame with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Ogunbowale also had 13 as Notre Dame used 57.9-percent shooting (11 of 19) and had a 31-17 edge on the boards led by Turner’s nine that helped her pass the 1,007 put up by former All-American Riley.
The Irish used their 40th run of 10 or more points this season in the second quarter to make the game a runaway at halftime. The 14-0 run was part of a 19-1 spurt over six minutes that sent Notre Dame from a 28-19 lead to a 47-20 advantage.
Notre Dame increased the lead to 30 points, 73-43, after three quarters and McGraw cleared her bench in the final quarter and still reached the 90-point plateau for the 10th time in their current winning streak.
Michigan State: The Spartans, who had a closed scrimmage in East Lansing with the Irish back in October before the regular season began, were dominated underneath as Notre Dame outscored them 52-34 in the paint and 15-8 on second-chance points with a 16-12 edge in offensive boards.
Notre Dame: Because of her two buzzer-beaters in last year’s Final Four, Arike Ogunbowale gets a lot of attention and the Irish frontliners Turner and Shepard are a handful for teams. But Young, the only junior in the starting lineup who had two triple-doubles this season coming in, showed again why she could be Notre Dame’s most valuable player.
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