Notre Dame women's basketball wins despite a loss (again)

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — The start of Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament season wound up representative of almost the entire Irish season — yet another concerning injury, yet another commanding win.

Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld rolled an ankle less than three minutes into the game and never returned, but top-seeded ND forged forward without her for a 99-81 first-round victory over No. 16 seed Cal State Northridge on Friday evening at Purcell Pavilion.

“She’s getting an X-ray tomorrow. We’ll know tomorrow,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of Westbeld’s status for Sunday’s second-round contest and potentially beyond.

Notre Dame (30-3) will face the ninth-seeded Villanova (23-8), which beat South Dakota State, 81-74, in overtime in Friday's late contest. Sunday's tip time is 7 p.m. EDT. ESPN has the telecast.

ND’s junior trio of Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard and Marina Mabery proved mostly unstoppable for CSUN (19-16).

Ogunbowale poured in 30 points, two shy of her career high, Shepard added 24 and Mabrey tallied 23, all of hers coming over the first three quarters. The three All-Atlantic Coast Conference players also combined for 19 assists (seven each by Shepard and Mabrey), 17 rebounds (10 by Shepard) and seven steals (four by Mabrey).

“You just have to keep playing,” Ogunbowale said of staying on task after Westbeld was sidelined. “I mean, we’ve had injuries before. Kat’s strong, though, so we’re just going to keep focusing on the next game and I’m sure she’ll be back.”

Westbeld’s injury was to her left ankle, not the right one that the third-year starter underwent surgery on last April and then recovered from more slowly than initially anticipated.

Without her Friday, the Irish offense still hummed, but the defense at times failed to slow the Matadors.

“You’re all excited and then Kat goes down three minutes into the game, so we’ve got a different lineup on the floor earlier than we normally would,” McGraw said after ND was reduced to six scholarship players without Westbeld.

“I thought we struggled defensively,” McGraw said. “Everything we talked about trying to stop (Channon) Fluker, and she just went to town on us. I was really disappointed we didn’t play better defensively, but their zone offense was really good.”

Fluker, a powerful 6-foot-4 junior and the two-time reigning Big West Player of the Year, scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. She was 12-of-21 from the field.

“Our goal all along was to stop the inside game,” Shepard said. “Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job of it. I think for us, it was just kind of trying to wear them down, fronting to try and tire them out, but like Coach said, we didn’t do a very good job.”

Freshman guard Destiny Brooks, who was averaging just 5.1 points, erupted for a career-high 24 for CSUN, all of it coming on 8-of-13 long-range shooting.

“I’m disappointed in how we showed up on defense — we didn’t even try,” Mabrey said. “The effort wasn’t there. We just gave up on plays. I think our team is much better than we showed.”

Senior forward Tessa Boagni added 23 points for the Matadors, went 11-of-14 from the field, and gathered 13 boards — although 19 of her points came after the Irish built a 55-32 lead by halftime.

For the Irish, Ogunbowale and Shepard each finished 12-of-20 from the field, while Mabrey drained 6-of-8 on triples.

“I thought Jessica Shepard for her first NCAA Tournament was phenomenal,” McGraw said. “Double-double and maybe could’ve had a triple-double. Seven assists and no turnovers, so a great stat line. Marina really helped Jess out by hitting some 3s, and Arike did her normal great offensive game.”

“When we share the ball, we’re really hard to guard,” Ogunbowale said. “We have five people on the court that can score in any position, and it’s hard to guard that. I think if we can put together four quarters like that, we’ll be really hard to stop.”

Notre Dame led by as many as 34 points, that coming at 82-48 with 3:03 to go in the third quarter. That’s also exactly when walk-on Kaitlin Cole made an earlier-than-usual appearance.

The closest CSUN came over the final 13 minutes was the final score.

“There’s nothing that surprises you in what they did,” Matadors coach Jason Flowers said, “but that’s what makes them a really good basketball team. They are really comfortable knowing their strengths and weaknesses individually, and then you put it all together, and they’re really efficient on offense.”

CS NORTHRIDGE (19-16): Boagni 11-14 1-1 23, Fluker 12-21 1-2 25, Brooks 8-14 0-0 24, Henderson 1-2 0-0 2, Tanabe 0-3 0-0 0, Louis 0-1 0-0 0, Matthews 2-3 0-0 4, Nate 1-1 0-0 3, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Shymkewicz 0-1 0-0 0, Ramos 0-3 0-0 0, Sullivan 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 35-66 2-3 81.

NOTRE DAME (30-3): Shepard 12-20 0-2 24, Westbeld 0-3 0-0 0, Mabrey 7-12 3-4 23, Ogunbowale 12-20 5-6 30, Young 5-10 2-2 13, Butler 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 3-4 0-0 6, Patterson 0-2 0-0 0, Benz 0-0 0-0 0, Cole 1-2 0-0 3, Totals 40-73 10-14 99.

CS Northridge 16 32 56 81

Notre Dame 23 55 82 99

3-Point Goals-CS Northridge 9-20 (Brooks 8-13, Tanabe 0-2, Nate 1-1, Smith 0-2, Ramos 0-2), Notre Dame 9-17 (Mabrey 6-8, Ogunbowale 1-4, Young 1-4, Cole 1-1). Assists-CS Northridge 23 (Tanabe 9), Notre Dame 28 (Shepard 7). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-CS Northridge 31 (Boagni 13), Notre Dame 36 (Shepard 10). Total Fouls-CS Northridge 15, Notre Dame 7. Technical Fouls-None.A--0.

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) puts up a shot during the Cal State Northridge at Notre Dame NCAA women's tournament basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Friday, March 16, 2018. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA