FOR OREGON, THE ROAD ENDS IN SPOKANE – Ducks Lose Halftime Lead and Fall to No. 1 Seed Notre Dame 84-74


Spokane, WA.

The long road to the Final Four ended Monday night in Spokane in the Elite 8 for the Oregon Ducks ( 33-5 ).

While the Ducks looked poised in the first half to upset No. 1 seed Notre Dame, in the end they simply couldn’t handle the size and strength of the Irish inside.

Kathryn Westbeld scored 20 points, Jessica Shepard added 18 and Notre Dame reached the Final Four for the eighth time in school history by handling Oregon 84-74.

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 connected on 9 of 12 shots.   Notre Dame (33-3) outscored Oregon 52-38 in the paint and out rebounded the Ducks 51-29 in the West Regional final.

“We haven’t been manhandled like that on the boards all year” said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves after the game.

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.

“Games like this where they’re letting you play — and they did let us play — we didn’t respond as well as we should have” explained Graves.

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.

“We didn’t make the same shots we were making earlier in the game” said Graves.

“Maybe they were contested a little more, but normally when we get those shooters open like they were, that’s like a layup for some of them.  Just didn’t make them tonight.”

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.

The Ducks had out rebounded opponents by seven for the season. After holding even with Notre Dame for most of the first half, Oregon was out rebounded 19-6 in the third quarter and 34-13 in the second half.

“I owe a lot to Lexi Bando” said Graves.   “She took a chance on us.  She leaves a legacy here that no one has before.  On top of all her records, she’s been a great leader and awesome teammate.  She’s been an absolute pleasure and joy to coach.”
As for Ionescu, losing isn’t something she’s used to.   In her two years in an Oregon uniform she’s helped the Ducks win 56 games.  And while most programs would be thrilled to make the Elite 8 in consecutive years, Ionescu says she’s simply not satisfied with that.
“I’ll definitely remember this game. … We’re going to come back hunting the Final Four next year.”


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