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Senior Watch: Arike Ogunbowale vs. Asia Durr

Last Thursday night featured a marquee matchup in women’s college basketball with No. 1 ranked Notre Dame hosting No. 2 ranked Louisville in the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup without the University of Connecticut in over seven years.

Not only did we get to see two of the top teams in the country, but two of the top prospects for the upcoming 2019 WNBA Draft in Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale and Louisville’s Asia Durr.

In our first edition of this year’s Senior Watch series, we’ll take a closer look at these two seniors, who both lived up to the hype on Thursday night.

They are the top two scorers in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season – Ogunbowale first at 21.5 points per game and Durr close behind at 21.4 – and rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in the nation. Both players upped their averages on Thursday night.

It was the tale of two halves, with Durr catching fire early as she scored 19 of her 29 points in the first half, including 12 straight for the Cardinals during a 3:47 stretch that spanned the first and second quarters.

The lefty scoring machine had most of her game on full display in that first half: drives to the basket for layups, pull up jumpers, converting defense to offense; the only thing missing was her 3-point shot as she went 0-of-4 in the first half and 1-of-8 for the game from beyond the arc.

When it comes to scouting Durr, there is definitely a pick your poison mentality as shutting her down completely is nearly impossible. You have to respect her outside shot (although she has been in a slump over her past six games, shooting just 8-45 from three), she has an excellent handle and can elude defenders with a quick crossover dribble, she can pull up in the mid-range or drive all the way to the hoop and finish at the rim with contact, and she can work off screens and hurt you with catch and shoots.

On Thursday, Durr was unable to sustain her first half output in the second half as she scored 10 points in the final 20 minutes and saw the Irish rally to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season.

That rally was sparked by Ogunbowale, who had a quiet first half with just four points, but then exploded after coming out of the locker room at halftime. She scored 26 points in the second half, including a pair of clutch threes, which have been her signature since her magical moments in last year’s Final Four.

In the national semifinal, Ogunbowale hit the shot of a lifetime, draining a long 2-pointer with one second remaining to knock off the mighty Connecticut Huskies and send her Fighting Irish to the national championship game. It was the kind of shot that is talked about for years, the kind of shot that makes you an instant celebrity on campus, around town, and of course on social media as Ogunbowale got a shot out from her favorite player, Kobe Bryant.

That shot of a lifetime was eclipsed in just two days when Ogunbowale did it again, this time hitting a fading 3-point shot as the clock expired to win the national championship with a 61-58 come-from-behind win over Mississippi State.

On Thursday, Ogunbowale woke up in the third quarter, scoring seven points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Irish a 10-point lead after trailing by as many as seven points in the first half.

Then came the fourth quarter, and a rally from Louisville to close the Irish lead to two points. Of course, Ogunbowale had an answer. She scored 19 of her game-high 30 points in the final quarter, including a personal 12-2 run in the final minute to close out the game. She hit both of her shots – including a dagger 3-pointer with 42 seconds left to push the lead back to seven points – and all seven of her free throws as Louisville was forced to foul to extend the game.

In her postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, Ogunbowale said it “might be a little gene I got” to describe her propensity for making big plays in clutch moments.

While her shot-making has received most of the headlines, Ogunbowale had a strong overall game with six assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block to go with her fifth 30-point game of the season. She excelled in transition opportunities, constantly finding her teammates for easy baskets, including this play where she stripped Durr of the ball and found Briana Turner with a great alley-oop pass for a transition layup.

Thursday’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash offered a glimpse of two of the top guard prospects in the upcoming WNBA Draft. Stay tuned for the next edition of the Senior Watch, where we take a look at more of the talented college players that will make the transition to the pros this April.