Notebook: Notre Dame's McGraw won't push timetable on Brianna Turner's return

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Coach Muffet McGraw won’t rush junior Brianna Turner back from knee surgery, even if it means the All-America center would miss the entire 2017-18 Notre Dame women’s basketball season.

“I want her to be 100 percent,” the Irish head coach said Tuesday. “I don’t want her only cleared to play. She is too good a player to just go half a year.”

The 6-foot-3 Turner tore the ACL in her left knee March 19 during ND’s 88-82 overtime victory over Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and will undergo surgery April 12.

The recovery time is where there’s a gray area. But McGraw was adamant about keeping Turner’s long-term future prominent in that formula.

“She could miss a year,” McGraw said. “I told her we weren’t going to talk about it. We need to focus on one thing at a time. Just have surgery, see how it goes, see how rehabilitation is going and then in the fall we can take our time and decide.”

Without Turner, the top-seeded Irish played small ball, routing Ohio State March 24, 99-76, in a Sweet 16 matchup with 5 seed Ohio State, then falling, 76-75, to second-seeded Stanford to finish the season with a 33-4 mark.

Turner averaged 15.3 points and a team-leading 7.1 rebounds per game last season. She was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top shot blocker at 2.46 per game, and her .619 field goal percentage ranked eighth nationally.

McGraw didn’t want to speculate about Turner possibly returning in 2018-19 if the Pearland, Texas product were to miss the 2017-18 season.

With or without Turner, the Irish will have more size on the roster next season, though much of it will be inexperienced. Both freshmen Mikayla Vaughn of Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va., and McDonald’s All-American Danielle Peterson of Mary Louis Academy in Queens, N.Y., are listed at 6-3.

“Both of them were state champions,” McGraw said of the freshmen who arrive in June. “We will need them — especially on defense.”

Backup 6-4 center Kristina Nelson (3.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg) returns for a fifth year.

Westbeld update

Junior Kathryn Westbeld played through substantial pain over the last two months of the season and made key contributions when she was able to be in the lineup.

McGraw announced on Tuesday that the 6-2 starting forward from Kettering, Ohio, will undergo ankle surgery next week.

“The rest she got wasn’t enough,” the coach said. “We did an MRI last Monday and determined there was enough damage for surgery.”

Westbeld, who missed five games entirely and parts of several others because of the injury, suffered a sprain and a bruised bone to the ankle. She averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last season.

She is expected to be 100 percent well before the start of the season and might return in time for Notre Dame’s European summer tour, July 31-August 9.

“Playing on it for so long did not make it any worse,” McGraw said. “She was in pain. She is such a tough kid. She just wanted to be out there with her team.”

Getting the point

All three of Notre Dame’s newcomers — Patterson, Vaughn and grad transfer Lili Thompson — will be eligible to be part of ND’s tour of Italy and Croatia. The Irish will play three to four exhibition games on the trip.

McGraw is happy about the 10 extra days of practice they receive because of the overseas trip. She is also hoping for a little déjà vu.

It was four years ago on a similar tour when McGraw got to see what Lindsay Allen could do at the point. The All-ACC player started every game of her career after an impressive summer prior to her freshman season, succeeding All-American Skylar Diggins in that role.

Thompson will get an opportunity to succeed Allen, and brings an impressive résumé from Stanford, including making the All-Pac-12 team as both a sophomore and junior, and earning a spot on the Pac-12 all-freshman team.

She sat out this past season at Stanford, then verbally committed to the Irish in January. McGraw confirmed the 5-foot-7 Mansfield, Texas, product had been admitted to Notre Dame’s graduate school and will join the team in June.

Thompson started 96 of 104 career games at Stanford, averaging 12.0 points and racking up 295 assists. In 2015-16, Thompson averaged 14.7 points and 3.5 assists. In Stanford's 90-84 Sweet Sixteen upset victory over Notre Dame in the 2016 NCAA Tourney, Thompson had 11 points and nine assists in 37 minutes.

“Thompson is very different from Lindsay,” said McGraw. “She is a scoring point guard. She can play the 2 position. She is really a good 3-point shooter (37.2 percent career).”

No special favors

A fringe benefit of McGraw being named as part of the 2017 class for the Naismith Hall of Fame over the weekend were tickets to the NCAA men’s Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., which is also where the Hall announcement took place.

But not necessarily prime tickets.

“It was interesting to go the men’s Final Four and see 60,000 people,” she said. “You could hardly see the court from where we were sitting.”

McGraw and 10 others will be inducted into the Hall in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 8.

“To be able to go out on the floor (and be recognized) was pretty special,” she said, but added that other than the announcement itself, the highlight of her trip was meeting former NBA All-Star Charles Barkley.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner is helped off the court by team trainers after injuring her knee during an NCAA Tourney game against Purdue last March. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)