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Notre Dame cranked up heat in second half to pull away from Oregon

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu dribbles around Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale during second-half action of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Elite Eight basketball game on Monday at the Spokane Arena. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu dribbles around Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale during second-half action of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Elite Eight basketball game on Monday at the Spokane Arena. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Greg Lee For The Spokesman-Review

Statistics generally don’t camouflage the result, no matter the sport or event.

In the case of the Oregon women’s basketball team, the first half to the final two quarters were measurably different.

And decisive.

Poor shooting and equally deficient rebounding took a toll on the Ducks, who were seeking a Final Four berth for the second year in a row Monday.

No. 1-seed Notre Dame showed more grit in the second half, advancing to their eighth Final Four and sixth since 2011 with an 84-74 win over the second-seeded Ducks before 5,226 in the Spokane Regional at the Arena.

The Fighting Irish’s reward is a rematch with No. 1-ranked UConn (36-0) at the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio. The Huskies, who are seeking a 12th national championship, beat the Irish 80-71 in early December.

The second-half statistics were telling. The Irish outrebounded the Ducks 34-13 and 51-29 overall including 19-6 on the offensive glass.

Notre Dame also outscored Oregon 24-10 in the key the final two quarters.

It was also one of the Ducks’ worst offensive halves of a highly successful season. Oregon made just 8 of 31 shots from the field.

One of the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation, Oregon finished 4 of 15 beyond the arc (26.7 percent), 1 of 10 in the second half.

Graves had no problem with the shots.

“We had five turnovers, so it’s not like we were giving the ball away or anything like that,” Graves said. “We didn’t make the same shots that we were making earlier in the game. Now, maybe they were contested a little more. But, you know, normally when we get some of those shooters open, like they were, that’s like a layup for some of them. Just didn’t make them tonight.”

Strangely, the game seemed to start to turn before the second half. Sabrina Ionescu hit a 3-pointer to give the Ducks (33-5) their biggest lead, 46-37, with 44 seconds to go before halftime.

But Jessica Sheppard completed a three-point play to trim Oregon’s lead to 46-40 as the teams went to their locker rooms.

And just as Graves predicted, it took one quarter to give one team all the momentum and that happened in the third period.

“They just raised their level and we didn’t quite enough,” Graves said. “They did it in the third quarter. That’s where the game was won.”

Notre Dame (33-3) used a 15-4 surge to open a 55-50 lead by the media timeout break.

Still, a Lexi Bando 3-pointer allowed Oregon to pull within 57-55 with 2:53 to go in the quarter.

The Ducks wouldn’t be as close the rest of the game.

Ionescu finished with a team-high 26 points.

“They know what it’s like to win at a high level,” Ionescu said of the Irish. “We knew they were going to come out and punch us (in the second half). We just had to be able to punch back and we didn’t.”

Graves noted the Ducks accomplished several firsts including Pac-12 and conference tournament titles.

Ionescu said it will be difficult to celebrate the season for a while.

“I’ll definitely remember this game,” she said. “It was a great run. I mean this is going to hurt. At the end of the day we needed to get over this hump and we didn’t. So, this is what I’m going to remember. But regardless, we’re going to come back, we’re going to learn from this, we’re going to come back better and hunting the Final Four next year.”

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