March 18, 2018
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — How sweet it is – the No. 1-seeded University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team has advanced to its 16th Sweet 16 and ninth straight after a strong second half surge lifted the Irish past No. 9 Villanova, 98-72. Tied at 45 at the half, the Irish (31-3) outscored the Wildcats (23-9), 53-27, in the second half.
For the second straight game, three Irish players finished with 20-plus points led by Jessica Shepard‘s double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds. Jackie Young earned a career-best 24 points and nearly netted a double-double herself with nine rebounds. Arike Ogunbowale rounded out the trio with 24 points and eight rebounds.
“We obviously defended a lot better in the second half. We were very excited to have Kat available for the second half and change the course of the game. We’re just a very different team with her on the floor,” Karen & Kevin Keyes Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Jess was just unstoppable inside. Our game plan was to go inside and she did everything we needed her to do.”
How It Happened
For the sixth time this year, Jessica Shepard reached double-digit points by the end of the first quarter, totaling 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting. Shepard’s hot start helped the Irish keep pace with Villanova’s quick opening from beyond the arc, as the Wildcats ended the first period 4-of-7 from three.
The second quarter featured both sides delivering punches, as both Notre Dame and Villanova remained deadlocked at 45-all heading into the half. Both teams shot exactly 56.7 percent (17-of-30) in the first half, as Villanova kept pace by connecting on 10-of-15 from three. All-in-all, there were 15 lead changes and nine ties in the first half. Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale combined for 15 points in the second quarter, while Kaitlin Cole had an important offensive board and put-back at the buzzer to close the half.
With the Irish needing a difference maker, enter Kathryn Westbeld, who started the second half to a standing ovation. Westbeld became an instant spark, as Notre Dame started with a 14-3 run and ultimately outscored the Wildcats, 28-8, in the quarter. This time, Young and Ogunbowale combined for 18 points in the quarter.
Notre Dame continued to pour in the points in the fourth, outscoring Villanova, 25-19, to cruise to the 98-72 final. Westbeld’s spark was proven by the fact that the senior finished +30 (49-19) in plus-minus in 16 minutes of action.
Player of the Game
Jessica Shepard shot 10-of-12 from the field to finish with 25 points, her third straight game with 20-plus points. Shepard also reeled in 10 rebounds, giving the junior her fourth consecutive double-double.
The last Irish player who achieved four straight double-doubles was Jacqueline Batteast in January of 2004.
Stat of the Game
The Irish defense did not allow a single Villanova three-pointer in the second half. In fact, the Wildcats could only muster five attempts in the second half.
- Sunday marked the 30th meeting between Notre Dame and Villanova. The Irish now lead the series, 20-10, with a 10-2 mark at home. Also marked their fifth straight win over the Wildcats.
- The Irish move to 58-23 all-time in NCAA Tournament play and 20-2 inside Purcell Pavilion, winning their 14th straight.
- Overall, the Irish have now won 25 consecutive games at home.
- Tonight’s victory gives Coach McGraw win No. 796 at Notre Dame and No. 884 overall.
- The Irish have advanced to their 16th Sweet 16 and ninth straight.
- Jessica Shepard reached double-digit points in the first quarter for the sixth time this year. The junior had 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting after the opening period.
- With 25 points and 10 rebounds, Jessica Shepard recorded her fourth straight double-double and 13th on the year. The last time an Irish player achieved four straight double-doubles was Jacqueline Batteast in January of 2004.
- Shepard’s 13 double-doubles ties Jacqueline Batteast (2003-04) for the fifth most in a single season.
- Arike Ogunbowale achieved her fourth straight game of 20 or more points with 24 tonight on 8-of-19 shooting, including a perfect 7-for-7 mark from the free-throw line. Ogunbowale also nearly netted a double-double with eight rebounds.
- Jackie Young earned a career high of 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including a career best 8-for-8 night from the stripe. She also nearly tallied a double-double with nine rebounds.
- Kat Westbeld finished with the best plus-minus of any Irish player. Entering the game at the start of the second half, Westbeld finished +30 (49-19) in 16 minutes of play.
The Irish head west to Spokane, Washington, with the Regional Semifinal games taking place at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET. on Saturday, March 24. No. 1 Notre Dame will challenge No. 4 Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.