Irish Dancing Back to Final Four After Beating Oregon 84-74
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — With all the options for Notre Dame, Kathryn Westbeld became the one that received a little less attention.
Despite playing on an injured ankle, Westbeld came up with the biggest game of her career to help the Fighting Irish find their way back to the Final Four.
"We have four great players, other than me on the floor, at the same time. You have to kind of choose something to give up," Westbeld said. "I think they chose me to kind of leave me a little bit."
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 hurt her ankle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and scored a total of 12 points in the previous four games. It was a familiar development for the Irish, who have been racked by injuries this season.
But Westbeld stepped up and made 9 of 12 shots while teaming with Shepard for an inside attack that hurt the Ducks for most of the night. 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. It's the sixth Final Four for Notre Dame since 2011 and old friend UConn awaits in the semis Friday night in Columbus, Ohio.
"We've needed everybody at times this year," coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think everybody has stepped up and come through for us."
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.
"Every big game that we've had this year seems like we've won. So we've come through," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. "Tonight we didn't. We met a team that was just a little bit tougher."
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 coming off screens and getting the ball out of her hands. When she did get a shot attempt, it was often a challenged look.
"We knew they were going to come out and punch us. We just had to be able to punch back, and we didn't," Ionescu said.
Notre Dame took full advantage of Oregon's struggles. Down 46-40 at the break, the Irish started the second half on a 15-4 run, including three second-chance baskets. Jackie Young's jumper with 30 seconds left in the quarter gave the Irish a 61-55 lead.
The Ducks closed to 65-63 on Hebard's fast-break layup with 5:38 left — just the sixth field goal of the second half for Oregon. Free throws by Westbeld, and consecutive baskets by Shepard and Westbeld quickly pushed the lead back to 71-63 just 75 seconds later and the Ducks never recovered.
"I think you look at what we do have, and that's really the key to this team," Shepard said. "I think we're just relentless. We're not going to settle for anything less than our best."
Oregon entered the game as the No. 2 team in the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 40.4 percent. But the Ducks were just 4 of 15 on 3s, 1 of 11 in the second half.
"I think they had a plan, let's stay on the shooters, throughout the tournament," said Oregon's Lexi Bando, who was 1 of 4 on 3s. "I shot almost 10 3s a game so they made sure every shot was contested and stayed on me the whole game."
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.