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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame takes care of business, loses Westbeld in first round

| Friday, March 16, 2018

By halftime, No.1-seed Notre Dame had put 16-seed CSU Northridge (CSUN) away as expected. From the moment the Irish pulled away in the second quarter, what happened on the court barely mattered.

A high-scoring tournament-opener for the Irish (30-3, 15-1 ACC), which finished 99-81, took a back seat to yet another Irish injury concern.

The Irish started the game with just seven healthy scholarship players. Three minutes in, there were just six, as senior forward Kathryn Westbeld left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish junior forward Jessica Shepard, left, dribbles up the court during Notre Dame’s 99-81 win over CSUN on Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

Those six remaining players ensured the Irish clinched a second-round game on Sunday, but Westbeld’s status remains in doubt as she awaits an X-ray.

“She’s getting an X-Ray tomorrow, so we’ll know a little more tomorrow,” McGraw said. McGraw also confirmed that Westbeld had injured her ankle, but pointed out that it was not the ankle she had had surgery on during the offseason.

“I haven’t talked to her at all yet,” McGraw said. “They took her right to the training room; they were with her the entire game and then I just missed her after the game.”

The opening minutes of the tournament were anything but what the Irish had hoped for. Although Notre Dame had a chance to score first after the Matadors (19-16, 8-8 Big West) couldn’t control the tip-off, it was Northridge who opened the scoring as some creative ball-movement led to a layup for junior center Channon Fluker. It got worse for the Irish as freshman guard Destiny Brooks, a 26.8 percent 3-point shooter, took advantage of the Irish defense’s attention to Fluker and knocked down two corner 3s to give the Matadors an 8-2 lead.

But a six-point deficit wasn’t a major worry for Notre Dame.

An injury to a starter, on the other hand, could well be.

Westbeld appeared to roll her ankle just over three minutes into the game and left for the locker room. What first appeared to be a minor injury soon became greater cause for concern as she stayed there for the remainder of the half.

But with only six healthy scholarship players, the Irish worked their way back. Though the Irish quickly tied the game at 8-8, the Matadors continued to put up a fight as Notre Dame didn’t take a lead until sophomore guard Jackie Young made a jumper to put the Irish up 14-12 with 3:36 remaining in the quarter. McGraw said the combination of the injury, rustiness and attempting to deal with Big West Player of the Year Fluker led to the slow start.

“I think the first game’s a tough one,” McGraw said. “You’re all excited, then Kat goes down three minutes in, we have a different lineup than normal and we struggled defensively. We talked about trying to stop Fluker and she went to town on us. Offensively they did some good things but I wasn’t happy with how we were defensively.”

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer

Irish head coach Muffet McGraw direct her team from the sideline during Notre Dame’s 99-81 win over CSUN on Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

Though the Matadors tied the game one last time, the depleted Irish quickly turned the score into something more befitting of a 1-seed – 16-seed matchup with a 13-2 run between the first and second quarters and a 12-0 run in 2:30 of game time midway through the second to give Notre Dame a 46-24 lead late in the half and a 55-32 lead by halftime.

“The first quarter was about steadying the ship, then in the second quarter, when we had the lead, that was some of the best we’ve played all year,” McGraw said.

Westbeld returned to the bench a minute into the second half but did not return to the game. However, the Irish continued to pull away without Westbeld, building a lead of 34 points at 82-48 with three minutes remaining as McGraw opted to put walk-on sophomore guard Kaitlin Cole into the game.

Despite the huge deficit, CSUN proved it still had something left with an 11-0 run finished by another 3-pointer for Brooks. The Irish regained a 27-point lead as they chased triple-digits, but Brooks continued to snipe from the corner, adding three more fourth-quarter 3s as she moved to 8-of-13 from downtown on the day, tying a program record for 3s as she helped the Matadors to move back within 20. Just short of 100 points with two minutes remaining, the Irish put in its two remaining walk-ons: junior forward Maureen Butler and freshman guard Nicole Benz, but Notre Dame had to settle for 99, winning by a final score of 99-81.

The Irish tied a program-best for points in an NCAA tournament game, but the 18-point margin of victory was by far the smallest Notre Dame has had as a No. 1-seed over a 16-seed, surpassing last year’s 30-point victory over Robert Morris, and was tied for the closest first-round win for any No. 1 seed since South Carolina defeated the Matadors by 15 points in 2014. McGraw said she was not pleased with the way her team performed defensively

“Defensively I was not so happy,” McGraw said. “I thought Fluker — she’s really a handful. We tried to double-team her but we didn’t. And then Brooks from the 3-point line and Boagni is just really smart and got into the right spots. We just outscored them, which is disappointing because we’re really need to play better defense going forward.”

Lacking depth more than ever, the Irish starters stepped up. Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale scored 30 points, two shy of her career-best while adding five rebounds and five assists, while fellow junior guard Marina Mabrey added 23 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting while adding seven assists. Junior forward Jessica Shepard, in her first-ever NCAA tournament game, scored 24 points, hauled in 10 rebounds and added a career-high seven assists, marking was the first time the Irish had three 20-point scorers in a game since 1999.

“I thought Jessica Shepard, for her first NCAA tournament, was phenomenal,” McGraw said. “A double-double and it could have been a triple-double. Seven assists, that’s incredible. And Marina helped Jess out by hitting some 3s and Arike helped out with her usual offense.”

The Irish will play their second-round encounter Sunday against No. 9-seed Villanova, but Saturday — and the results of Westbeld’s X-ray — will be the first important date for McGraw’s team.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel