Phoenix rises, but Notre Dame survives late surge in WNIT semis

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The anticipated explosion simply fizzled.

After surging to a 17-point lead with 4:50 to play in the third quarter, the howling Notre Dame women’s basketball crowd was waiting for the next run that would put Green Bay away, like so many Irish opponents in the past.

Instead it was the Phoenix that made a big run before the top-ranked Irish steadied themselves and hung on for 71-67 victory.

The third triumph of the season for Notre Dame propels the Irish into Sunday’s championship game of the preseason WNIT. That game against No. 17 Washington will be at Purcell Pavilion at 3 p.m., and be televised by the CBS Sports Network. Washington was a Final Four team a year ago and will pose the biggest challenge yet for the Irish.

And Irish coach Muffet McGraw is assembling a long to-do list between now and then.

“I was disappointed in our defense. We just weren’t able to get it done in the game,” said McGraw, whose team surrendered 12-of-25 accuracy on 3-point attempts by Green Bay. “But I think they are a terrific team. They are so experienced, smart, poised and well coached.”

The Phoenix threw a scare into the Irish and the Purcell crowd of 7,817, and it did not seem like a fluke.

“Offensively, they were really hard to guard,” said McGraw, “and defensively they made it difficult for us to get the ball in the post.”

The Notre Dame half-court offense sputtered much of the night, and the Irish finished shooting 36 percent from the field for the game.

“Everyone is going to give you their best shot when you are ranked anywhere in the top five,” said McGraw. “We have to be prepared for that. I think we are mentally prepared. We have some things to work on at this time of the year. We are not in top form right now.”

A miserable shooting performance in the first quarter saw the Irish hit only four of 18 shots, yet they led 14-8, a margin that was extended to 11, 41-30, at halftime.

The Irish came out after the intermission and stretched the lead to 51-34 with 4:50 remaining in the period — and it seemed like a patented Notre Dame outburst was coming. It didn’t.

Instead Green Bay regrouped, hit six of 9 of its three-point shots in the final period and trailed only 66-61 with possession of the ball. But that’s when Kathryn Westbeld forced a jump ball. The possession went to the Irish, and after Marina Mabrey hit two free throws, the Phoenix upset bid was thwarted.

Westbeld, for the second straight game, led the Irish in rebounds with eight, while scoring 10 points.

“It was big when Kat makes that jump ball play,” said McGraw.

She added Westbeld may be becoming that “glue” player the Irish need, much like the role Madison Cable played a year ago.

“She is smart," McGraw said. "She makes good decisions. She made some really big plays down the stretch. I am really happy with that.”

Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth heaped praise on his 6-foot-1 junior Jessica Lindstrom, who led the Phoenix with 20 points and 16 rebounds.

"Pound for pound she is the best rebounder you will find anyplace,” he said.

For the third time in three games, the Irish were led in scoring by Arike Ogunbowale. The sophomore scored 18 points, while Brianna Turner added 14 and Mabrey 13.

“Our offense was ragged," said McGraw. “I know we can play better offensively.”

Irish freshman Jackie Young made her regular-season debut after missing the last two games with a thumb injury. She grabbed seven rebounds and hit a 3-pointer.

“They make it tough on you,” McGraw said of Green Bay. “They bump you on cuts and really take away the inside game. It’s good this time of year to have a game like that. Hopefully, we learned some things from it.”

NOTRE DAME (71): Arike Ogunbowale 7-16 2-2 18, Brianna Turner 5-10 4-6 14, Marina Mabrey 4-11 4-4 13, Kathryn Westbeld 4-6 2-4 10, Lindsay Allen 1-6 6-8 8, Mychal Johnson 1-2 2-2 5, Jackie Young 1-4 0-0 3, Erin Boley 0-4 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-5 0-0 0, Totals 23-64 20-26 71.

GREEN BAY (67): Jessica Lindstrom 8-13 0-0 20, Mehryn Kraker 5-11 1-2 14, Jen Wellnitz 3-5 2-2 9, Allie LeClaire 2-9 2-2 7, Sam Terry 3-7 0-0 7, Lexi Weitzer 2-3 0-0 4, Madison Wolf 1-4 0-0 3, Frankie Wurtz 1-2 0-0 3, Laken James 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 25-56 5-6 67.

NotreDame 14 27 14 16 — 71

Wis.-Green Bay 8 22 13 24 — 67

3-Point Goals-NotreDame 5-13 (Ogunbowale 2-4, Johnson 1-1, Mabrey 1-5, Young 1-1, Boley 0-1, Westbeld 0-1), Wis.-Green Bay 12-25 (Lindstrom 4-7, Kraker 3-7, LeClaire 1-3, Terry 1-3, Wellnitz 1-1, Wolf 1-1, Wurtz 1-2, James 0-1). Assists-NotreDame 16 (Allen 8), Wis.-Green Bay 20 (LeClaire 6). Fouled Out-Wis.-Green Bay Kraker. Rebounds-NotreDame 41 (Westbeld 8), Wis.-Green Bay 34 (Lindstrom 16). Total Fouls-NotreDame 12, Wis.-Green Bay 23. A-7,817.

Notre Dame's Kathryn Westbeld (33) handles the ball between Green Bay's Jen Wellnitz (1) and Madison Wolf (52) during ND's 71-67 win Thursday in the WNIT semis at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)