SOUTH BEND — When Notre Dame’s Katlyn Gilbert was named Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball Freshman of the Week on Monday, Irish coach Muffet McGraw did a double take.
Not because she didn’t think Gilbert’s play over the previous week merited consideration, but because she forgot Gilbert even qualified for consideration.
“I was like, ‘What?’” McGraw admitted before ND’s practice Saturday afternoon in advance of Sunday’s game at No. 9 Louisville.
As a redshirt freshman, Gilbert is indeed eligible for such honors.
“I keep forgetting she’s a freshman (in eligibility),” McGraw said. “I forget how much (time Gilbert lost last season due to injury). If she was a true freshman, I think I’d be thrilled to death with everything she’s doing, but I think she can keep getting better, so I’m a little harder on her.”
As it is, the 5-foot-10 guard is averaging 13.8 points, second on the team to grad transfer Destinee Walker’s 14.6 — and tops among ACC true or redshirt freshmen. Gilbert’s also at a team-leading 2.0 steals, along with 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 33.9 minutes per game.
On the down side, her scoring has been built more on volume — she’s at 38.4% from the field while leading ND in attempts, 23.7% on 3-pointers and 67% at the line — than on efficiency, and her turnovers are second-highest on the club at 3.4 per outing.
“Individually, I feel like I’ve come a long way mentally,” Gilbert said Saturday of how she assesses her season to date. “Physically, I don’t think I’ve come as far as I’d like, but I can’t dwell on what’s not happening; just focus on what is happening and how to get to the point I want to be at.”
Gilbert, from Heritage Christian in Indianapolis, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last winter after appearing in just seven games as a true freshman, with averages of 3.6 points and 15.9 minutes.
She reiterated Saturday that there are no lingering issues with the shoulder and that her stated desire to improve physically is more about “just getting faster, stronger, things like that.”
“She does need to get stronger,” McGraw said, “but I think she’s had to play a lot of positions for us, and she’s done it really willingly. She asks questions, she wants to learn and get better.
“She’s somebody,” McGraw continued, “who we’re really counting on for the future to be that versatile person like Jackie (Young, the overall No. 1 pick in last spring’s WNBA draft) was, somebody to play the point, play the four, go inside, go outside, bring the ball up against the press, so we put a lot on her.”
The lone Indiana native on the Irish roster, maybe Gilbert will boast an arc to her career that is similar to the one of the lone Indiana native on Louisville’s roster.
Junior guard Dana Evans out of Gary West is starring for the Cardinals at 18.3 points per game to go with 4.2 assists, 71-of-173 on 3-pointers for 41% and 84-of-92 at the line for 91.3%.
A year ago — admittedly on a powerhouse team with multiple since-graduated standouts to which she deferred — Evans finished at a more pedestrian 10.4 points to go with 4.0 assists and 38.5% 3-point shooting in 25.9 minutes per contest, while as a freshman, she averaged just 5.1 points in 21.0 minutes.
Gilbert is plenty familiar with Evans. They played together for two summers on AAU teams during their middle-school years, reaching nationals.
They also went against each other in December 2014, when Gilbert was a freshman at Heritage and Evans a sophomore at West. Gilbert’s team, the eventual Class 2A state champion, won 78-74 in an Indiana Hall of Fame Classic semifinal.
“That game was fun,” Gilbert recalled. “It was like an all-star game, in a really big gym (the New Castle Fieldhouse). It was cool that we already knew each other, and there was a lot of attention on that game.”
Right now, there’s plenty of attention on Louisville (22-3, 11-2 ACC), given the Cardinals’ status as Final Four contender again, while there’s nothing of that nature on the Irish (10-15, 5-8).
Louisville already shredded Notre Dame 86-54 a little over two weeks ago at Purcell Pavilion.
Further, the Cardinals are coming off a 66-59 win at No. 4 North Carolina State that deadlocked them with the Wolfpack for the ACC lead, while ND is coming off a heart-breaking 56-55 loss at Boston College on Emma Guy’s last-second shot.
Those factors make Sunday’s task for the Irish appear even more gargantuan.
“We don’t try to dwell on it too much,” Gilbert said of moving past Thursday’s defeat that snapped a three-game winning streak. “We just use it as a learning lesson. I think the thing our team took from Skylar Diggins’ era was, ‘Next play,’ so we look at this as, ‘Next game,’ and just try to get better.”
Easier said than accomplished.
“That one’s gonna hurt for a long time,” McGraw acknowledged of the loss to BC. “We had a lead (43-28 at four minutes to go in the third quarter), then played poorly and gave up (20 straight points), and then to come all the way back ourselves (from a 51-45 deficit at 3:49 to go) and have Destinee make that huge play (a go-ahead layin inside of two seconds), you think the game is over.”
Guy, though, made an over-the-shoulder catch of a long side-inbound skip pass at 1.2 seconds left and a twisting move for the layin as time expired.
“In hindsight, should we have gone zone?” McGraw wondered. “(We) probably would’ve won.
“Should’ve gone zone, but so many things happened throughout the game. They had to make a perfect play, and it was perfect.”