- Associated Press - Friday, March 16, 2018

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Notre Dame’s first round win could be costly for the top-seeded Irish.

Kathryn Westbeld, often referred as “The Glue” by coach Muffet McGraw, rolled her left ankle early in the Irish’s 99-81 win over Cal State Northridge on Friday in the opening round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Westbeld’s availability for Sunday’s second-round game, after having X-rays Saturday, was called “doubtful” by McGraw, who has had to navigate four season-ending ACL injuries to key players.

Without their senior leader, Notre Dame relied on Arike Ogunbowale, who scored 30 points. Jessica Shepard had a near triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Marina Mabrey scored 23 points and Jackie Young added 13 for Notre Dame, which advances to play old Big East rival No. 9-seed Villanova.

“We struggled defensively,” McGraw said. “Everything we talked about trying to stop (Channon) Fluker and she just went to town on us.”

Fluker, a 6-foot-4 junior who has been the Big West Player of the Year the last two seasons, scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead CSUN (19-16). Tessa Boagni had a double-double of 23 points and 13 board and Destiny Brooks scored 24 points, hitting 8-of-13 3-pointers.

McGraw was disappointed that her team couldn’t find Brooks at time while trying to deal with Fluker and Boagni down low, and her post-game message got through to her players.

“I’m disappointed in how we showed up on defense - we didn’t even try,” Mabrey said after 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, including her first five, seven assists and four steals. “We didn’t even try. The effort wasn’t there. We just gave up on plays. I think our team is much better than we showed.”

CSUN coach Jason Flowers was plenty impressed. “There is nothing on the stat sheet that surprises you,” he said. “Arike and Marina just took over the game for a stretch and Jessica made everything in the paint.”

McGraw did like Notre Dame’s second-quarter performance when it hit 13 of 16 shots (81.3 percent) in taking a 55-32 halftime lead. “It’s the best we’ve played all year,” she said.

Westbeld went down in the lane with a rolled left ankle after her short jumper was blocked by Fluker with 7:35 left in the first quarter. As Westbeld was getting up slowly to limp back into the action, Brooks hit her second 3-pointer of the quarter to give the Matadors an 8-2 lead. Notre Dame finally got a timeout with 6:51 to get Westbeld out of the game.

After receiving courtside attention from the team physician and trainer, Westbeld left the court before halftime and returned after the third quarter started, limping with her ankle taped, to take a seat on the bench for the rest of the game.

After the initial shock wore off, the Irish finished on a 21-8 run to take a 27-16 lead after the first quarter thanks to seven points from Young and Ogunbowale and six by Shepard. The Irish shot only 44 percent to CSUN’s 50 percent and were outrebounded 12-7 in the first 10 minutes. But Notre Dame forced eight turnovers, including six steals with its 2-3 hawking zone, while committing none.

Notre Dame’s biggest lead came after Shepard made a steal, fed Ogunbowale for the basket and she made a free throw for an 82-48 with 3:03 to go in the third quarter.

“It’s exciting to get out there,” Shepard said after her first NCAA game - she didn’t play in any at Nebraska her first two seasons. “Like coach said, our defense has to be better next game.”

BIG PICTURE

CS Northridge: The Matadors jumped to an 8-2 lead but then were undone by turnovers. They had eight in the first quarter - Notre Dame had none - and the Irish converted them into 14 points while taking a 23-16 first-quarter lead. By halftime, the forced turnover edge favored Notre Dame 11-2 and the Irish outscored the Matadors 16-2 with the advantage.

“I tell people all time if this rocket science I would not do it,” Flowers said. “Usually in a game against a really good opponent it’s going to come down to things we can control, turnovers being one of them.”

Notre Dame: The Irish followed a 44-percent shooting performance in the first quarter by hitting 13 of 16 shots in the second quarter to take a 55-32 halftime lead. Mabrey, forced into the point guard position following season-ending ACL injuries to Mychal Johnson and Lili Thompson during the season, made all three 3-pointers she attempted and scored 12 points in the quarter in addition to dishing out three assists and making four steals.

HELPING HANDS

The teams finished with 51 assists in the game with the Irish holding a 28-23 edge. In addition to seven by Shepard and Mabrey, Young and Ogunbowale had five each. The 28 assists came on 40 field goals. CSUN made 23 on its 35 baskets.

“When we share the ball we’re hard to guard,” Ogunbowale added.


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