Notre Dame passed its first big test of the season.
Jacki Young scored 23 points, Arike Ogunbowale and Brianna Turner netted 21 apiece and the top-ranked Fighting Irish won the Vancouver Showcase championship, rallying for a 91-81 victory over No. 9 Oregon State on Saturday night.
Oregon State (6-1) led for the first three quarters, but the Irish drew even early in the fourth and pulled away.
“We really struggled at the beginning of the game,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s been our Achilles heel. We’ve really struggled at the beginning (of games).”
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The Irish (6-0) were bolstered by the return of top forward Jessica Shepard, who missed Friday’s semifinal win over Drake with a sore ankle. She scored 17 points and helped the Irish outscore the Beavers 56-36 in the paint.
“We knew we had to come out in the second half ready to go,” Turner said.
The Beavers led 29-17 after the first quarter and 50-41 at halftime, but the Irish only trailed by two points after the third and controlled the fourth. Notre Dame outscored Oregon State 23-11 in the final period.
“We got beat by the best team in the country that won the national title last year and added their center (Shepard) back,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “So they made the plays down the stretch. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were calm, they executed extremely well and they were just so efficient. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to.”
Destiny Slocum led the Beavers with 21 points, and Mikayla Pivec had 17 for the Beavers.
The Beavers squandered comfortable leads for the second straight game. They managed to squeak out a win over No. 13 South Carolina in the semifinals Friday, but could not do likewise Saturday against the Irish.
“It’s awesome for us to even and have an opportunity (to play in the tournament featuring tough teams),” Slocum said. “Not many teams get to say they’re going to play two top-20 teams back-to-back. I think it’s great for our team to be able to keep them down.”
Shepard had 10 rebounds. The Irish also benefited from the return of Marina Mabrey, another member of the national title-winning team, who played her first game of the season after recovering from a quadriceps injury. Mabrey recorded nine points in 19 minutes. Her 3-pointer in the third quarter gave the Irish an 80-77 advantage.
“Jess was phenomenal for us, as well as Marina, too, just coming in there and having those great minutes,” Turner said. “When Marina hit that deep 3 it really ignited us.”
Uncertainty ensued with Oregon State leading 48-41 with 30 seconds left in the opening half. Officials held a lengthy video review after Oregon State’s Jessica Thropay fouled Ogunbowale during a scramble in the Beavers zone and kicked her in the face.
The review showed the kick was incidental, but the video also showed that Ogunbowale had elbowed Oregon State’s Kat Tudor in the head moments earlier at the other end of the court. Ogunbowale and Tudor were awarded offsetting free throws. Tudor made hers and Ogunbowale missed both to give the Beavers a 50-41 halftime lead.
Oregon State: The Beavers’ ranking may improve after the strong showing against the defending NCAA champions.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have not lost since dropping a 74-72 decision to Louisville on March 4 last season.
Oregon State: The Beavers head home to face LaSalle on Dec. 1.
Notre Dame: The Irish will not get any breaks with the schedule in their next two games. Notre Dame will face No. 12 Iowa at home on Thursday and then host No. 2 UConn on Dec. 2.