Despite bum ankle, Kathryn Westbeld makes impact for Notre Dame against Virginia

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Somewhere near Kathryn Westbeld’s name on the lineup card must have been a note: Insert Only In Case Of Emergency.

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team had its share of emergencies in Sunday’s 82-74 victory over Virginia. And, guess what? Westbeld responded.

In the words of former Indiana University football coach Bill Mallory, Westbeld “boogered up” her right ankle pretty good in practice before the Boston College game on Jan. 18. After Sunday’s game, when she had four points, two assists and two rebounds in nine critical minutes, she exited the locker room in a walking boot.

Besides her stat line, what the 6-foot-2 junior contributed to the Irish was a calming presence on the high post when everyone else was in a panic.

“We wouldn’t have won the game without (Westbeld),” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “So much toughness. She was in a lot of pain.

“I was not supposed to play her. I could use her if I really absolutely had to. We got to that moment on the bench. I looked at her and said, ‘Sorry. Are you ready to go?’ She said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Westbeld’s three-minute stint late in the second quarter came at the 7:58 mark with the Irish clinging to a five-point lead. The advantage trickled quickly to one. But Westbeld, making an instant impact, had two rebounds and a layup that helped set up Notre Dame for an eight-point lead at intermission.

In Westbeld’s absence, freshman Jackie Young was often used at the high post, not an easy transition for a wing.

“(Playing well at the high post takes) a lot of experience,” said McGraw. “You have to have your back to the basket, be ready to turn around and see a double-team, and find somebody that’s open in a matter of seconds. You cannot be indecisive.

“The definition of a freshman is indecisive. It’s a really tough spot (for Young), even though we worked on it for a couple days.”

Without that cohesiveness, the Irish offense didn’t always flow like it can.

With the game tied at 63 and 6:51 left in the game, McGraw broke the glass and went to her emergency option again. Ten seconds later, she found an open Arike Ogunbowale, who hit a short jumper. Up by three, Westbeld hit Ogunbowale again, who converted a short shot. Then, with 2:53 to play and the shot clock winding down, Westbeld hit a scoop layup to beat the buzzer and up the lead to seven.

“It’s part of my game to stay calm and consistent,” Westbeld said. “I’m trying to give my teammates confidence in me that they can rely on me to be that steady person.

“(The high post) is a tough spot. That’s the center of the floor. Everyone is reaching in from every angle. It’s a good spot for me. You’ve gotta be patient and look for the open person.”

After not playing against Boston College and North Carolina, Westbeld somehow managed to log 26 minutes – collecting six points and seven rebounds – in Thursday’s win over Duke. Her three offensive rebounds in a row midway through the fourth quarter had a significant impact in that victory.

“I had a little bit stronger medicine (for the Duke game),” Westbeld said. “I wasn’t expected to play a whole lot (against Virginia), so they didn’t give me the strongest medicine. It’s hurting a little bit more.

“I was ready to go whenever. Being engaged in the game, I was amped up. I wanted to play. I came into Notre Dame coming off the bench, so it’s not something I don’t know.”

So is making an impact — even in an emergency.

Notre Dame's Kathryn Westbeld gets by Virginia's J'Kyra Brown for the layup on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/ MIKE HARTMAN)