Louisville girls basketball beats Notre Dame with big finish in CIF-SS Division 2A semifinals

SHERMAN OAKS — Andrea Hurtado knew Notre Dame’s defense would shift to account for Taylor Westbrook.

She had gashed the Knights from the left side throughout Saturday’s game. So when Westbrook went to seal her defender for an entry pass with 40 seconds remaining on a play created to give her the opportunity to tie the game or restore the Royals’ lead, it left Hurtado with space to attack her defender.

“I felt like they were sagging off of me and I had the open shot,” she said.

The Royals trailed 47-45 as Hurtado took matters into her own hands.

She dribbled left to initiate the set, briefly glanced at Westbrook before crossing over into a right hand push dribble.

“I knew it was in,” Westbrook said.

Hurtado’s 3-pointer gave the Royals a one-point lead, which they followed up with two defensive stops on their way to beating Notre Dame 50-47 to advance to the CIF Southern Section Division 2A final.

Louisville (28-3) will face Lakewood on Friday or Saturday, Feb. 23 or 24. The date and time will be announced Monday.

Thinking back to when these teams met in the Coastal Catholic Classic at Crypto.com arena, Louisville head coach Monica Hernandez felt the Royals needed a multitude of ways to prevent Notre Dame (19-13) from finding a rhythm playing at its preferred pace.

They unleashed an armory of schemes in an effort to speed up the Knights. While it was effective, it left the Royals vulnerable on the glass.

“We just weren’t crashing hard,” Hernandez said.

The Knights corralled 19 offensive rebounds, their plus-16 advantage on the boards keeping them in the game — an effort championed by Grace Muir who came off the bench to record 10 points, 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame employed a press of its own, at times blocking the inbounder with a defender, dropping back into a pesky man-to-man once it was broken.

With the defensive cross-matching the points came at a premium. In the third quarter, the teams combined for 13 points with the majority of possessions ending in jump balls or turnovers.

That is, until the fourth quarter began.

Louisville’s Taylor Westbrook scored a team-high 16 points in a victory over Notre Dame in the CIF-SS Division 2A semifinals Saturday, Feb. 17. (Photo by Aaron Heisen)

The Royals stretched the margin to five as they broke down the Knights press. Westbrook, who finished with a team-high 16 points, and Eva Van Lokoren combined for two transition layups to put them up 37-32.

Notre Dame responded with succinct half-court sets. Natalie Villamor cut from baseline to baseline, finding space for subsequent 3-pointers. Villamor had 13 points and Amia Witt led the Knights with 15 points.

Fearing their shots, the Royals left Muir space in the paint, enough for a floater and a put back layup that gave the Knights a two-point lead with a minute remaining.

“They’re really good role players,” Hernandez said about Muir and Payton Chalmers, who both played significant minutes down the stretch.

Bench depth like that is a luxury the Royals can’t turn to. It’s an absence they’ve had to accept as constant and to their benefit.

“It’s all about chemistry and working with the six players we have,” Westbrook said. “I think not having a big bench helped us in the end.”

It left her no choice but to trust her point guard, Hurtado, who had fulfilled the game plan by steadily feeding Westbrook, the selflessness affording her breathing room for the dagger.

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