SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For one half Sunday night, the Villanova women seemed on the way to writing their own chapter of the wild outcomes in the two NCAA tournaments.
But ultimately top-seeded Notre Dame exerted its athletic superiority and delivered a Rudy moment after a 45-45 tie at the break to ignite the Irish and crowd of 4,249 fans in Purcell Pavilion to roll to a 98-72 victory and another appearance in the Sweet 16.
This one will come Saturday in the Spokane Region in Washington against fourth-seeded Texas A&M.
Villanova (23-9) goes home after many achievements, and the Wildcats look to be even better next season.
“We executed our offense, we got the shots we wanted, we got a lot of three-point shots , which we needed in the first half,” said Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who completed his 40th season on the Main Line.
“Defensively, I knew it was going to be tough to stop them from scoring inside. We didn’t have any answer for any of that, but the three-point shot in the first half equalized that.”
The game turned to high drama in these parts when Kathryn Westbeld entered the lineup and the arena filled with the roar of the crowd. The senior forward is much more than
Rudy, the football walk-on who came into the his last game at garbage time, as depicted in the movie.
Westbeld had rolled her ankle early in Friday’s win over Cal State-Northridge, adding another aggravation to Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, the Saint Joseph’s graduate, who had to deal with four season-ending injuries while keeping her Irish (31-3) high profile.
Westbeld has been important to Notre Dame’s success, but was held out as a starter against the Wildcats. But with the trainer’s go-ahead and wanting to play her last game here,
the Ohio native took the floor until the game wound down to its final moments.
“I don’t think it was just her,” Perretta said of being a game-changer. “It was the whole team.”
Jannah Tucker, a transfer from Tennessee, led Villanova with 19 points. Kelly Jekot scored 16, and Adrianna Hahn scored 11.
Villanova was outrebounded, 48-19.
Jessica Shepard, a transfer from Nebraska who has helped rescue the Irish from their collection of injuries, had 25 points and 10 rebounds. Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale scored 24 apiece, and Marina Marbrey scored 15.
“We defended a lot better the second half,” McGraw said. “Certainly, having Kathryn Westbeld available — the trainer told me before the game that she thought she might be able to play the second half. And certainly we were very excited she was able to get back in the game and change the course. I think, with her on the floor, we’re just a very different team.”
Villanova had seen many different styles on its schedule in the Big East, the Big Five, and in nonconference, but Tucker said the Irish were superior to other opponents.
“They’re a lot bigger,” Tucker said. “They’re a lot more experienced. They play hard the whole 40 minutes. You could tell they have that grit the whole 40 minutes. They’ve been in close games more at a higher level than we have.”