Two championship contenders play like it.
It’s been nearly seven years and 2,600 days since we’ve seen a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup without Connecticut. Tonight, it was No. 1 Notre Dame up against No. 2, unbeaten Louisville featuring two highly touted head coaches and a pair of the ACC’s top scorers in Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (22.1) and Louisville’s Asia Durr (20.9), with the Irish winning, 82-68.
It was the first time the Cardinals have appeared in such a matchup, and history wasn’t necessarily on Louisville’s side coming in with a 1-10 record all-time against top-ranked opponents. Their No. 2 ranking? The highest in program history.
To put it simply, it was a tale of two halves. Louisville looked confident and composed; not bothered to be playing in front of a sellout crowd at Purcell Pavillion. Notre Dame looked brand new out of the locker room at halftime, which proved to be enough.
Once the Fighting Irish got going, there was no stopping them. At the hands of the reigning national champs, Louisville suffered its first loss of the 2018-19 campaign. There were a handful of factors that played into the outcome of tonight’s back-and-forth contest.
- Durr was unstoppable, especially to start the game, but she needed help. After notching 19 first-half points and finishing with 29, she didn’t have a ton of backup.
- Walz should probably teach his players how not to foul. Sarcastic or not, foul trouble killed Louisville and Notre Dame took advantage of it, finishing 29-39 from the charity stripe.
- Notre Dame’s defensive energy in the second half was a game changer. Couple that with Ogunbowale coming alive offensively and the Cardinals couldn’t quite bounce back.
- Whatever Muffett McGraw said at halftime? It worked. After 11 turnovers in the first half to just a pair for Louisville, the Fighting Irish settled in in the second half.
- Jessica Shepard’s outlet pass is legendary and she was a monster on the boards. Despite some minor foul trouble, she ended with 15 boards and seven points.
- Ogunbowale’s Mamba Mentality is for real. At one point in the second half, she scored 10 straight points and ended the night with 30. Not to mention her dagger three-pointer with 30 seconds left to put Notre Dame up 73-66.
- More on Ogunbowale: she only had four points at halftime.
- Louisville is a really tough team. They didn’t go down without a fight and it’s absolutely possible, on a neutral floor, they steal one from Notre Dame. A sneak peek of the 2019 national championship in Tampa? Very well could be.
- A No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup is entertaining with or without UConn. If you wanted an early taste of March Madness, you definitely got it tonight.
ESPN’s Adam Amin said it best: being a No.1 seed is far from a lock for any team this year. Tonight assured us of that.