Holes hard to find in Kathryn Westbeld's game for Notre Dame

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — She may not make the electrifying, individual plays that draw the oohs and aahs from the crowd, but she is a player the crowd should appreciate as much as her coach does.

Notre Dame junior Kathryn Westbeld will quietly go about her business in the starting lineup Thursday against Pittsburgh at 7 p.m at ND's Purcell Pavilion.

Her overall body of work gets plenty of attention from coach Muffet McGraw.

“Kat is the unsung hero and in some ways the glue for our team,” said McGraw. “We count on her to come up with the big play for us – a big offensive rebound and put-back, a great high-low pass, take a charge. She really does good things at both ends of the floor.”

Indeed she does many good things.

Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 junior from Kettering, Ohio, leads the team in field goal percentage at .591 (68 of 115), many of those shots mid-range jumpers. That percentage mark is tied for fourth among all players in the ACC.

She started every game last year and this season and is a major reason the Irish are 15-2 (3-1) and ranked No. 6 in the nation. She will play a major role when the Panthers (10-6, 1-2) come calling.

The business school student with a passion for fashion, takes pride in her reliability.

“I think they (her teammates) look to me as someone consistent – someone who will stay level headed,” she said. “I have been told I am too unselfish. I have to step up the offense more.”

McGraw goes beyond that.

“We go better when she is in the game,'' she said. "Everybody is comfortable with her. Her shot selection is good. She can handle the ball really well – she is doing so many great things for us.”

Westbeld works to keep her confidence level where it should be.

“Coach tells me I have unlimited potential and to be more aggressive,'' she said. "I have to keep from being down on myself. I get down on myself when I do something like a turnover. I need to fix that and can't be down because people are looking to me to stay steady.”

Westbeld's numbers are not gaudy. She averages 8.9 points and 6.1 rebounds in some 23 minutes on the floor. It is all the little, consistent, important things she does that help make her so valuable.

Arike Ogunbowale leads the Irish offensively with her 14.9 scoring average, just ahead of Brianna Turner at 14.4. Marina Mabrey is next at 12.8 points per game.

Still thinking about the sting of a recent league loss (at North Carolina State), Westbeld thinks that will solidify the Irish effort.

“The loss definitely humbles us,” she said. “We realize it can happen at any time. So we have to stay focused. I hate to say it, but the loss can be a good thing. It lets us know we are not invincible. That makes us ready to take on the next step.”

The Irish are behind by one game in the ACC standings and tied with four other teams with 3-1 league records – North Carolina State, Syracuse, Louisville and Florida State.

After the clash with Pitt the Irish start a three-game road stretch to finally complete a rugged 10-of-12 game stretch on the road.

Notre Dame travels to Tennessee Monday, followed by road games at Boston College on Thursday, Jan. 19 and at North Carolina on Sunday, Jan. 22.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 6 Notre Dame (15-2, 3-1) vs. Pittsburgh (10-6, 1-2).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m. 

TICKETS: Available by calling (574) 631-7356, going online to UND.com/buytickets or visiting the Gate 9 ticket windows today.

INTERNET: Game can be seen online at WatchESPN.com (formerly ESPN 3) or through the WatchESPN app.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend

TELEVISION: None

GAME NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series with Pittsburgh, 24-3. The Irish were 21-3 vs. Pitt in the Big East Conference days and are 3-0 in ACC play ... Notre Dame has won 35 straight home conference games, including 23-0 at home in ACC play ... Lindsay Allen has 679 career assists, second to Northwestern’s Ashley Dray (704) among all NCAA active players ... Pittsburgh is coached by Suzie McConnell-Serio, in her fourth season. McConnell-Serio’s career coaching record is 177-124. She is a women’s Hall of Fame member and a Penn State graduate (1988). She still is the NCAA career leader in assists with 1,307 recorded in her playing days with the Nittany Lions ... Brenna Wise, a 6-foot-0 sophomore, is Pitt’s leading scorer and rebounder with averages of 13.4 and 7.3, respectively. Brandi Harvey-Carr, a 6-4 graduate senior scores at a 12.2 rate.

Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) shoots while guarded by Wake Forest’s Milan Quinn (32) during ND's victory Thursday over the the Demon Deacons. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)