Nerves not a problem for Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard in NCAA Tournament

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Box scores can reveal blemishes, but for Jessica Shepard in Notre Dame’s most recent win, the box effectively obscured a form of perfection.

“I think I got my own rebound ... right?” Shepard said with a smile and a bit of hesitation, as if she’d been posed a trick question, when asked Wednesday if she remembered what happened immediately after her only two misses from the field during the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Yes, Jess, you did get your own rebound.

And then you powered the ball right back up and into the basket.

“Yeah, that’s right, I thought so,” Sheppard said with a recollecting grin.

Shepard finished a merciless 10-of-12 from the field, again those mere two misses cleaned up by none other than herself, as the Irish downed Villanova 98-72 on Sunday.

The effort extended a glowing postseason so far for the junior transfer from Nebraska in her first NCAA Tourney.

Shepard followed up her 24-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist, zero-turnover line in last weekend’s 99-81 opening-round win over Cal State Northridge with a 25-point, 10-board, zero-turnover performance against Villanova.

Zero turnovers in 65 postseason minutes?

So much for nerves while attending your inaugural Big Dance.

The 6-foot-4 forward is also 22-of-32 from the field over those two games.

“She’s been amazing,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday afternoon of Shepard. “For someone playing in their first NCAA Tournament, I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s playing. She’s been aggressive looking for her shot, looking for the ball.”

While Shepard also posted some sparkling games in the regular season — including her Purcell Pavilion-record 39-point show against DePaul in December — she was sometimes “kind of content to sit back and do a little bit of whatever we needed,” according to McGraw. “Now she’s kind of taken over. She’s a force inside. She’s really, really working hard at both ends.”

“I think we knew going into the (Villanova) game there was going to be a mismatch inside, so I think the guards did a great job getting it inside,” Shepard said of her virtual field-goal perfection against the Wildcats, “and when they do get the ball to me, it’s just important to finish it.”

Up next for top-seeded ND (31-3) is Saturday’s 4 p.m. Spokane (Wash.) Regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Texas A&M (26-9). That’s followed by No. 2 seed Oregon (32-4) against surprising 11th seed Central Michigan (30-4).

Survivors return at 9 p.m. Monday for the right to advance to the Final Four. Each game will be on ESPN.

“Obviously, to play in the Sweet 16 is an amazing feeling, but just the opportunity to play another basketball game this year feels good,” said Shepard, whose current string of four straight double-doubles is the best by a Notre Dame player since Jacqueline Batteast’s four straight in January 2004. “There’s only 16 teams left playing right now, so it means a lot to be one of them.”

Kat back in boot

After her epically inspiring off-the-bench performance for the Irish in the win over Villanova, Kathryn Westbeld is back in a protective boot this week, still has significant swelling on her sprained left ankle and still was not practicing as of Wednesday.

McGraw was cautiously hopeful that the senior forward will be able to play this weekend.

“I’d like her to start,” the coach said of Westbeld, who played the second half only against the Wildcats as the Irish broke free of a 45-all halftime deadlock for the resounding victory. “I think it’s important that we get off to a good start, and I think she will help us.”

Westbeld was not present during a pre-practice media session Wednesday afternoon as she continued to receive treatment.

“We’re trying to work on getting some things done for the flight, which is going to be a little bit of a problem for her,” McGraw said of making Westbeld comfortable during Thursday’s long trip to reach Spokane, “but I don’t expect she’ll practice all week.”

The coach reiterated Wednesday that the choice to limit Westbeld to one half against Villanova was simply a trainer’s decision, with that decision even specifying which half.

“(Trainer Anne Marquez) went into the game saying ‘you might be able to use her in the second half if you really need her,’ and obviously at halftime, we really needed her,” said McGraw, who added that she would’ve used the invaluable Westbeld all 40 minutes if it was an option.

The choice to indeed play Westbeld in the second half was made at the very start of the intermission, so after undergoing roughly 10 treatments between being injured early in Friday’s win over Cal State Northridge and the start of Sunday’s game, she was prepped once more at halftime of that latter contest.

McGraw said Westbeld yearns to play whenever possible and “is definitely playing through some pain,” but added that she believes the veteran is also candid with trainers.

“She’s going to be honest with them and tell them, and if there is any way that she would do further damage, then she would not play at all, but if it is just a pain-tolerance issue, you know she’ll be out there,” McGraw said of Westbeld, who already has coped often with recurring pain in her right ankle following surgery last April.

Westbeld typically did not practice over the last six weeks of last season as she dealt with that ailing ankle, so not practicing before games now is nothing new.

SOUTH BEND — Box scores can reveal blemishes, but for Jessica Shepard in Notre Dame’s most recent win, the box effectively obscured a form of perfection.

“I think I got my own rebound ... right?” Shepard said with a smile and a bit of hesitation, as if she’d been posed a trick question, when asked Wednesday if she remembered what happened immediately after her only two misses from the field during the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

Yes, Jess, you did get your own rebound.

And then you powered the ball right back up and into the basket.

“Yeah, that’s right, I thought so,” Sheppard said with a recollecting grin.

Shepard finished a merciless 10-of-12 from the field, again those mere two misses cleaned up by none other than herself, as the Irish downed Villanova 98-72 on Sunday.

The effort extended a glowing postseason so far for the junior transfer from Nebraska in her first NCAA Tourney.

Shepard followed up her 24-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist, zero-turnover line in last weekend’s 99-81 opening-round win over Cal State Northridge with a 25-point, 10-board, zero-turnover performance against Villanova.

Zero turnovers in 65 postseason minutes?

So much for nerves while attending your inaugural Big Dance.

The 6-foot-4 forward is also 22-of-32 from the field over those two games.

“She’s been amazing,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday afternoon of Shepard. “For someone playing in their first NCAA Tournament, I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s playing. She’s been aggressive looking for her shot, looking for the ball.”

While Shepard also posted some sparkling games in the regular season — including her Purcell Pavilion-record 39-point show against DePaul in December — she was sometimes “kind of content to sit back and do a little bit of whatever we needed,” according to McGraw. “Now she’s kind of taken over. She’s a force inside. She’s really, really working hard at both ends.”

“I think we knew going into the (Villanova) game there was going to be a mismatch inside, so I think the guards did a great job getting it inside,” Shepard said of her virtual field-goal perfection against the Wildcats, “and when they do get the ball to me, it’s just important to finish it.”

Up next for top-seeded ND (31-3) is Saturday’s 4 p.m. Spokane (Wash.) Regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Texas A&M (26-9). That’s followed by No. 2 seed Oregon (32-4) against surprising 11th seed Central Michigan (30-4).

Survivors return at 9 p.m. Monday for the right to advance to the Final Four. Each game will be on ESPN.

“Obviously, to play in the Sweet 16 is an amazing feeling, but just the opportunity to play another basketball game this year feels good,” said Shepard, whose current string of four straight double-doubles is the best by a Notre Dame player since Jacqueline Batteast’s four straight in January 2004. “There’s only 16 teams left playing right now, so it means a lot to be one of them.”

Kat back in boot

After her epically inspiring off-the-bench performance for the Irish in the win over Villanova, Kathryn Westbeld is back in a protective boot this week, still has significant swelling on her sprained left ankle and still was not practicing as of Wednesday.

McGraw was cautiously hopeful that the senior forward will be able to play this weekend.

“I’d like her to start,” the coach said of Westbeld, who played the second half only against the Wildcats as the Irish broke free of a 45-all halftime deadlock for the resounding victory. “I think it’s important that we get off to a good start, and I think she will help us.”

Westbeld was not present during a pre-practice media session Wednesday afternoon as she continued to receive treatment.

“We’re trying to work on getting some things done for the flight, which is going to be a little bit of a problem for her,” McGraw said of making Westbeld comfortable during Thursday’s long trip to reach Spokane, “but I don’t expect she’ll practice all week.”

The coach reiterated Wednesday that the choice to limit Westbeld to one half against Villanova was simply a trainer’s decision, with that decision even specifying which half.

“(Trainer Anne Marquez) went into the game saying ‘you might be able to use her in the second half if you really need her,’ and obviously at halftime, we really needed her,” said McGraw, who added that she would’ve used the invaluable Westbeld all 40 minutes if it was an option.

The choice to indeed play Westbeld in the second half was made at the very start of the intermission, so after undergoing roughly 10 treatments between being injured early in Friday’s win over Cal State Northridge and the start of Sunday’s game, she was prepped once more at halftime of that latter contest.

McGraw said Westbeld yearns to play whenever possible and “is definitely playing through some pain,” but added that she believes the veteran is also candid with trainers.

“She’s going to be honest with them and tell them, and if there is any way that she would do further damage, then she would not play at all, but if it is just a pain-tolerance issue, you know she’ll be out there,” McGraw said of Westbeld, who already has coped often with recurring pain in her right ankle following surgery last April.

Westbeld typically did not practice over the last six weeks of last season as she dealt with that ailing ankle, so not practicing before games now is nothing new.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 4 seed Texas A&M (26-9) vs. No. 1 seed Notre Dame (31-3) in NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.

WHERE: Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena (11,736), Spokane, Wash.

WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).