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Jackie Young puts herself in Notre Dame lore with epic semifinal

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Notre Dame beats UConn on Ogunbowale's late jumper (1:09)

In another classic game between the Fighting Irish and Huskies, the teams battle back and forth with Arike Ogunbowale putting Notre Dame up for good with a second left in overtime. (1:09)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Notre Dame point guard Marina Mabrey had a message for Jackie Young in the minutes before the Final Four matchup against UConn. The New Jersey native is never one to hide her thoughts from teammates, opponents, referees or stray passersby.

Mabrey wanted Young to be clear on what the Fighting Irish needed. Clear on her role. Young was, after all, a nonfactor when the same teams met in December during the regular season, the sophomore glued to the bench for long stretches because of foul trouble. She scored two points in 24 minutes in defeat that day.

"We're going to need you today," Mabrey recalled of the conversation before the semifinal rematch. "They're going to take me away; they're not going to let me do something."

That isn't something anyone ever had to tell Young in years gone by. Especially not in front of a full house. She is Indiana's all-time leading high school scorer, male or female, a state where those things mean enough to have inspired the Hollywood homage of Jimmy Chitwood. People have for years traveled far and wide to watch her score points in droves. She almost always delivers.

And Friday night, she assured Mabrey she had her back.

Young matched the seventh-best scoring performance in Final Four history with 32 points against the previously unbeaten and top-ranked Huskies in the 91-89 overtime thriller. Only UConn's Maya Moore and Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored more in a Final Four game this century. Young also had 11 rebounds.

Maybe no one will need to remind her of her role in the future. Maybe Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw won't have to say, as she has in recent weeks, that Young could be the best to ever play for the Fighting Irish.

Maybe Young just will be herself.

"She definitely has the ability, and I'm so excited now," McGraw said. "Maybe this will be kind of the first step for her to continue to be aggressive offensively."

Maybe the game of her life wasn't any kind of anomaly, but merely Young in her element.

Thanks to Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale, the Notre Dame team that plays Mississippi State on Sunday for the national championship exudes confidence as much as any that came before it in South Bend. That's a list of teams that includes personalities like Skylar Diggins, regal and demanding, and Jewell Loyd, a self-professed Kobe Bryant disciple. This group hadn't matched their accomplishment until Friday, but it had just as many alpha personalities.

"We have a team of competitors," Mabrey said. "We always joke about it, like, 'If you weren't on my team, I would hate you. You're so annoying.' "

Except for Young, that is. Mabrey chose "quiet assassin" as the words to explain her. An hour later, associate head coach Niele Ivey came up with the exact same words. Young isn't loud or brash. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could hate Young. She's far too unassuming to be irritating.

Consider the shot at UConn she passed up about 12 hours after the game ended.

Young noted that UConn's defense didn't pay her much attention initially, instead focusing on Mabrey and Ogunbowale. She also noted that the Huskies didn't change that approach even after she hit some shots. But asked if she took that personally, she squirmed and looked less comfortable than at any point on the court a night before.

"A little bit, I guess," Young said. "We're both two great teams. For them to do that, yeah, you just have to be able to play through that and play your game."

It was not the answer Mabrey or Ogunbowale would have given -- heck, it wasn't the answer either offered on her behalf the night before, brashly eager to twist the knife at UConn's miscalculation.

That isn't Young's personality. She walks softly and carries a big game.

"She's so strong and so athletic that when she gets moving downhill ... you might as well just get out of the way and hope she misses it," Mabrey said. "I'm not stepping in front of her. Same with Arike. They're both so deadly in transition. Our whole game is to try and get rebounds so we can get out in transition and not have to run offense."

Quiet isn't the same as meek.

Few players arrived in college with a better understanding of meaningful games and what it means to play in the moment. High school basketball is still big in Indiana, if perhaps not the shut-down-the-town phenomenon it was in Hollywood's telling of bygone years. And it was particularly big along the border of Indiana and Illinois when Young and Tyra Buss battled for the two years that their prep careers overlapped a little more than 10 miles apart.

Those games pitted the future all-time leading prep scorers in Indiana and Illinois, respectively.

One meeting drew nearly 4,000 fans. Not for a state title. Not even the state tournament. Not for some special occasion in a college or professional arena in a bigger city. It drew that crowd for a regular season game in Fort Branch, Indiana, a town that doesn't even have 4,000 residents.

Now a senior who Saturday finished her career as Indiana University's all-time leading scorer, Buss scored 66 points in that particular high school clash. Young scored 39 points and won.

"The gym was crowded, it was crazy -- they had security for us," Young said. "It was just a packed game. That's what it sort of reminded me of last night but with 17,000 more."

But through a freshman season that was solid without being spectacular, and ended with her a non-factor in a regional final defeat, Young deferred more to teammates than she ever had to opponents.

"I could feel it. I felt like I was just holding back because I felt like there were upperclassmen I thought could get the job done," Young said. "I knew coming in to my sophomore year that they were going to need more from me. I think that started as soon as we lost, I was back in the weight room and back in the gym, trying to get stronger and trying to get better."

The first UConn game this season notwithstanding, Young has often been at her best this season in the biggest games. She scored 21 points in a win at Oregon State in November, 22 points in a win against South Carolina a week later. She was the only one who showed up for an embarrassing loss at Louisville in January. But even in the good moments, McGraw often tempered her enthusiasm about Young's potential with concern about her present aggressiveness. The coach wanted more than an all-around complementary player.

"She didn't shoot as much as even her freshman year," McGraw said Saturday. "So we tried to get her to look at the basket, but people were guarding her. So she was taking them off the dribble. Her game is kind of -- it's still evolving. I think there's a couple of games where she made some big 3s. I'd like to see her shoot more of them. She's just really comfortable doing either one."

Ivey said Notre Dame thought of Young in the same light during the recruiting process as Diggins and Loyd, a type of player who's the cornerstone of a championship team. She certainly won't have to do that alone Sunday, Mississippi State unlikely to dare her to shoot the way UConn did. But the attention the Bulldogs will have to pay her only helps Mabrey, Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard and the Fighting Irish in general.

And if it comes down to it, Young does have a knack for scoring. After all, she doesn't mind the spotlight.

She'll just let her points do the talking.

"She knows that she's really good, but she's not the one to be boasting about it," Ivey said. "She just takes care of business and is really talented. I feel like last night she put the team on her back and was like 'I got you.'"

She's looked very comfortable in that role.