Kathryn Westbeld's clutch play in final minute helps Notre Dame dodge upset

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Kathryn Westbeld has often been called “the glue” by Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

On Wednesday afternoon, with the No. 2-ranked women’s college basketball team in the country teetering on defeat, and with the seams having come loose in several areas, it took a hearty helping of “the glue” to help put the hosts back together as the Irish pulled out a 91-85 overtime win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion.

“I thought Kat in the last of the fourth quarter and the overtime was an All-American,” McGraw said after Notre Dame improved to 11-1 heading into its holiday break. “She was fabulous. Her rebound basket to tie the game — huge, huge.”

At 44 seconds to go in regulation, Westbeld went to the line with ND trailing 73-70. After the senior forward hit the first free throw, she missed the second, but managed to leak in to get her own rebound and tally for a 73-all deadlock.

That remained the score going to OT, where Arike Ogunbowale quickly scored the first four points and Jackie Young added the next basket as the Irish took the lead for good at 79-73.

“Just don’t quit on the play,” Westbeld said of how she was able to snare the pivotal rebound. “My mindset is, ‘We can’t lose, we’re not about to lose this game,’ so really (it was) just attacking.

“Offensive rebounds are always huge, especially at the end of games that are close,” Westbeld continued. “It was hard for us to get a stop there at the end, so if we can get another chance on offense, that’s what it took.”

Westbeld — still playing through pain after April ankle surgery — finished with season highs of 13 points and 10 rebounds to go with three assists in 27 minutes.

Typically efficient, she was 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-4 at the line, that miss ironically proving bigger than any make. In OT, besides finishing with four points and two boards, it was her steal that led to Ogunbowale giving the Irish their quick two-possession lead.

“I felt we showed plenty of poise when we got down,” McGraw said of her club that twice trailed by four points over the final 2:27 of regulation. “We had a lot of opportunities (to win), but had some breakdowns defensively that cost us and a lot of dumb fouls. We made some mistakes, but we didn’t fall apart. I thought we did a really good job of keeping each other up.”

On a day peppered by big individual numbers, Ogunbowale scored a game-high 22 points, and fellow junior Marina Mabrey collected 19 points, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots.

And yet, neither was among the three Irish players who each notched double-doubles — the first time ND has had three players record such in the same game since February 2014.

Besides Westbeld earning one of those double-doubles, Jessica Shepard — coming off her Purcell-record 39-point performance Sunday — had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and sophomore Jackie Young finished with 10 points and 10 boards.

Lili Thompson also scored 10 points, giving the Irish six players in double digits.

Marquette (6-5) exactly matched that, led by Allazia Blockton with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and fellow junior Erika Davenport with 19 points and 16 rebounds.

The Golden Eagles, who have no active seniors on their roster, suffered their fifth single-digit loss away from home, and all five have come against teams that stood a combined 43-4 after ND’s victory.

“We were definitely here to win,” Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger said, dismissing the notion of a moral victory against the nation’s No. 2 team. “I just talked to (the players) in the locker room. We took Tennessee (currently 11-0 and ranked No. 7) to overtime, we took Notre Dame to overtime. Now it’s time for us to take the next step as a program, and what that means is toughness and details.”

Not that all the details were pretty for the Irish, either.

They hit just 17-of-28 free throws, they converted just 4-of-22 on 3-pointers, they coughed up 17 turnovers to finish at minus-four in that department and they allowed 15 offensive rebounds.

“You win the game and you have players ready to listen,” McGraw said with a smile of a favorable double dividend she hopes comes from the negatives.

In this latest victory, ND played a steady diet of 2-3 zone.

“We couldn’t guard them man-to-man,” McGraw explained. “We couldn’t guard them off the dribble. They were beating us off the dribble in the first half. We had trouble containing the ball and the help rotation was bad, so I thought the zone would be better, and I don’t know if it was better or not, but (with it), we at least had help on plays.”

“I kind of expected they might try some zone,” Kieger said, “just because some of the one-on-one matchups were, I think, tough, but obviously, we couldn’t stop them, either. It came down to toughness plays, and they made every tough play down the stretch.”

In a game with eight lead changes, each team’s largest was eight points, Notre Dame’s coming at 64-56 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

The Eagles, though, responded with a 15-3 spree to take a 71-67 lead with 2:27 to go.

That was finally halted by an Ogunbowale bucket at 2:13 remaining to narrow the gap to 71-69. Shepard then answered a 73-69 Irish deficit with 1-of-2 at the line for the 73-70 count that set the stage for that backwards-style three-point play by Westbeld.

In OT, Marquette trailed 87-80 with 30 seconds to go, but got as close at 87-85 before Ogunbowale hit two free throws at 10.8 ticks and Westbeld two more at 0.8 for the final count.

The Irish are off until they open Atlantic Coast Conference play on Thursday, Dec. 28, at home against Syracuse. The Orange are 11-0, with two games remaining before they face the Irish.

Notre Dame's Kathryn Westbeld would like to be back on the court sooner than later if a balky ankle would cooperate. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)