Notre Dame, Oregon collide for women's Final Four berth

By Tom Musick, The Sports Xchange  |  March 26, 2018 at 10:25 AM
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A longtime powerhouse program will meet a recent upstart for the right to advance to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four when No. 1 seed Notre Dame tips off against No. 2 seed Oregon on Monday night in Spokane, Wash.

Notre Dame (32-3) needs one more win to make its sixth Final Four appearance in the past eight seasons. The Fighting Irish are pursuing their first championship since 2001.

Meanwhile, Oregon (33-4) is looking to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history. In coach Kelly Graves' fourth year, she has led the Ducks to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and now hopes to take the next step.

"I think last year we had no idea what to expect," Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu said. "I know a lot of new players this year have no idea what to expect. I think we're leading them well, we're making it known that every game could be our last game, so we have to come out and play with an edge, play as hard as we can, just enjoy the moment."

Although Notre Dame is accustomed to dominance, this season has not been typical for a short-handed squad that has been decimated by injuries. The Fighting Irish used only seven players in their 90-84 win over fourth-seeded Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon to advance to the Elite Eight.

Arike Ogunbowale will look to maintain her remarkable play after leading a comeback effort over the Aggies with 27 points and six rebounds. Marina Mabrey, who shined with 25 points and nine assists against Texas A&M, will try to stay hot from outside after making seven 3-pointers for a Notre Dame tournament record.

Kathryn Westbeld also expects to play for the Fighting Irish despite an ankle injury that she sustained last week. She has played the past two games on a bad ankle, and "it's probably not going to get a lot better" before Monday, coach Muffet McGraw told reporters at the Spokane Regional.

"She shows tremendous toughness," McGraw said. "We need her in the game because she does so many things for us that don't show up on the stat sheet. She's a great facilitator for us with the ball on the high post."

Oregon likely will offer the toughest test yet for Notre Dame. The Ducks have won 12 games in a row, including tournament wins over No. 15 seed Seattle, No. 10 seed Minnesota and No. 11 seed Central Michigan.

Ionescu figures to challenge Notre Dame's defense after nearly notching a triple-double against Central Michigan. She finished with 16 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Teammate Ruthy Hebard also posted a double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds.

"I think this team, they're businesslike when they need to be," Graves said. "But they really are a loose bunch. I haven't seen any difference between this year and last year. This year in January, February, December, they are who they are. It's working."

Notre Dame won tournament matchups over No. 16 seed Cal State Northridge and No. 9 seed Villanova before knocking off fourth-seeded Texas A&M.

"They're in great shape," McGraw said. "They know they're going to have to go the distance [with a short bench]. I think they're ready for it."

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