Irish dancing back to Final Four after beating Oregon 84-74
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Kathryn Westbeld scored 20 points, Jessica Shepard added 18 and Notre Dame reached the Final Four for the eighth time in school history by defeating Oregon 84-74 on Monday night.
Westbeld came up with the biggest game of her Notre Dame career despite being slowed by an ankle injury from the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Westbeld had scored a combined 12 points in the previous four games, but she teamed with Shepard for an inside attack that hurt the Ducks.
Westbeld made 9 of 12 shots. Notre Dame (33-3) outscored Oregon 52-38 in the paint and outrebounded the Ducks 51-29 in the Spokane Regional final.
Arike Ogunbowale added 19 points and Marina Mabrey had 15 for the Irish.
Despite a handful of costly injuries along the way, the Irish are back in a familiar spot in the national semifinals. It’s the sixth Final Four for Notre Dame since 2011 and old friend UConn awaits in the semis Friday night in Columbus, Ohio.
First-team all-American Sabrina Ionescu led Oregon (33-5) with 26 points, but the Ducks struggled offensively over the final 20 minutes. Oregon shot 8 of 31 in the second half and Ionescu had just seven points after the break.
The Ducks were unable to find other scoring options. Ruthy Hebard had 12 points in the first half and just five in the second half.
Oregon also never got into a rhythm with its outside shooting. The Ducks were 4 of 15 on 3-pointers after entering as the No. 2 team in the country at 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Notre Dame’s defense was a big reason why Oregon shot so poorly.
After a first half that was an offensive showcase, Notre Dame did a better job of pressuring Ionescu and getting the ball out of her hands. When she did get a shot attempt, it was often a challenged look.
Notre Dame took full advantage, starting the half on a 15-4 run, including three second-chance baskets and Jackie Young’s jumper with 30 seconds left in the quarter that gave the Irish a 61-55 lead.
The Ducks closed to 65-63 on Hebard’s fast-break layup — just the sixth field goal of the second half for Oregon. Free throws by Westbeld and Shepard’s basket after Ionescu missed pushed the lead back to 69-63 with 4:50 remaining. Westbeld scored again and the lead was 71-63.
Oregon: The Ducks had outrebounded opponents by seven for the season. After holding even with Notre Dame for most of the first half, Oregon was outrebounded 19-6 in the third quarter and 34-13 in the second half.
Notre Dame: Ogunbowale was named the most outstanding player of the region. She was 6 of 6 at the free-throw line in the second half and the Irish were 15 of 16 at the line for the game.
Notre Dame lost 80-71 to UConn on Dec. 3 in Hartford, Connecticut. Their last meeting in the NCAAs was the 2015 national title game won by the Huskies.