Notre Dame women will look different against Ohio State

Ken Klimek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – One won’t need a program, but the lineup of Notre Dame women basketball players definitely will be different when No. 10 Ohio State comes calling Wednesday night at the Joyce Center at Purcell Pavilion.

Sophomore sensation Brianna Turner will not play because of an injured shoulder, and the status of her junior partner in the paint, Taya Reimer, is uncertain. Reimer is bothered by a lingering Achilles injury.

The game is part of the annual ACC-Big Ten challenge and is the first of three successive matchups Notre Dame will have against Top 25 competition. The Irish meet No.1-ranked Connecticut at Storrs, Conn., Saturday before returning home to meet newly-ranked DePaul on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Notre Dame played two games to win the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas last weekend. And they played both those games (Denver and UCLA) without Turner.

“We persevered,'' said ND head coach Muffet McGraw. "We battled adversity and everyone made at least one big play for us.”

The two weekend victories pushed them to 6-0 and helped the Irish retain their No. 3 national rank.

Helping to absorb the loss of Turner, and possibly Reimer, is the continued development of sophomore Kathryn Westbeld.

She has seen extended action, including starting all six games.

“Not being a freshman has helped my mindset,” said Westbeld. “I feel more comfortable and more confident.”

“Kathryn played 38 minutes against UCLA,'' said McGraw. "She looked great even in the overtime period. She is in phenomenal shape and playing great basketball.”

Westbeld is averaging 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds.

“I have tried to step up,” said the personable Westbeld. “We have had a lot of adversity and when your name is called you have to step up.”

Comfortable playing in the post or out on the wing, Westbeld will likely be a fixture in the paint against the Buckeyes.

“I am ready to get more boards and bang in the paint,” she added.

The game has special meaning for Westbeld as well. She and four of the Ohio State players were part of an Ohio AAU team before their college days and Ohio State was a school she seriously considered.

One player all Irish will have their eyes on will be Kelsey Mitchell. The sophomore is the nation’s leading scorer with a 28.5 average. She scored 42 last weekend against Texas A&M.

“She is a great player,” Westbeld said.

Mitchell has plenty of offensive help. Joining her will be 5-foot-9 senior guard Ameryst Alston (18.7 ppg) and 6-2 senior Shayla Cooper, averaging 9.3 rebounds and 8.5 points a game.

Senior Hannah Huffman may also see some extended minutes for the Irish. A fan favorite because of her hustle, defense and desire, the 5-9 Huffman has seen quality minutes in past seasons.

“We look good with Hannah and four guards,” McGraw said, referring to the change in style of play her team may have to adopt.

“We will be more guard oriented,” said McGraw. “Definitely we will have to gang rebound. It’s important that everyone feels responsible to get the rebounds Bri (Turner) would have gotten.''

Relatively quiet in the scoring column so far, 3-point expert Michaela Mabrey, a senior, will be looked to for more help offensively.

The game will have an emotional sidebar to it. Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff was an assistant to McGraw for six years. His wife, Letitia, played for McGraw in the early ‘90s. “I hate playing teams coached by former staffers,” said McGraw. “But I won’t have any trouble getting my killer instinct going once the ball is tipped.''

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33), here going up for a shot against Valparaiso earlier this week, provided some inside punch for the Irish Friday in a 94-52 rout of Denver in the Bahamas. (SBT File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)