Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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42 FEBRUARY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL "I just came in with the mindset that I was going to play," Shepard said. "There was no time to debate it. Once I was out there I just had to play hard." With Thompson's injury, Notre Dame was down to seven scholar- ship players prior to the second half of this season. By November, Mc- Graw added two walk-ons in guard Kaitlin Cole and forward Maureen Butler, while student manager Nicole Benz — a guard who had tried out at the start of the season — also began to suit up after Christmas break. Still, the Irish remained No. 2 in the country with hard-earned wins versus DePaul, which has won four straight Big East titles; Marquette, the unani- mous choice to win the Big East this year; and Syracuse, which advanced to the national championship game two years ago. In all three games, the Irish needed strong finishes to defeat DePaul, Marquette (91-85 in overtime, after trailing 73-69 with 1:46 left in regulation) and Syracuse. Notre Dame shot 9 of 11 (81.8 per- cent) from the field in the fourth quarter versus DePaul, 5 of 7 (71.4) in overtime versus Marquette and 10 of 15 (66.7 percent) in the fourth against the Orange. THE IRON FIVE If Thompson is indeed ruled out, Notre Dame still will field one of the nation's most formidable starting quintets with five former McDonald All-Americans in Shepard, Young, Westbeld and junior guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey. Keeping them healthy and fresh is the challenge. With Shepard limited to 18 minutes at Wake Forest to rest her ankle, fifth- year senior Kristina Nelson provided a boost off the bench with 13 points and seven rebounds. Finding a role for freshman forward Danielle Pat- terson is a new undertaking. Ogunbowale leads the team in scoring with a 20.5 average, tallying at least 20 points 10 times during the 13-1 start (2-0 in the ACC). Mabrey (12.5 points per game) has had to take on more point guard duties while assisted by Young and Ogunbowale. A marvelous pure shooter, Mabrey may have seen her rhythm affected with her extra role, but in the win at Wake Forest she was 8 of 11 from the floor, including 4 of 6 from three-point range, for 22 points. Young (13.6 points and 7.5 re- bounds per game) has remained a consistent force on both ends of the floor, but especially crucial has been the play in both the high and low post from Shepard (15.2 points, 8.6 rebounds per game) and Westbeld. A SHEPARD LEADS THE FLOCK For all the woes suffered by the Irish the past nine months, McGraw still feels fortunate that on Nov. 1 the NCAA granted Shepard a waiver to play this season at Notre Dame fol- lowing her transfer from Nebraska. Ranked as the No. 3 prospect na- tionally by ESPN HoopGurlz in 2015 — behind All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson (Connecticut) and Asia Durr (Louisville) — the 6-4 Shepard was dominant during Notre Dame's Dec. 17-28 stretch. Against DePaul, she tallied a Pur- cell Pavilion record 39 points for a women's game — on 17-of-22 shoot- ing from the floor and a 5-of-6 effort from the foul line. She also added 11 rebounds (six on offense), three assists and three blocked shots in 33 minutes. "We count our blessings during the Christmas season, and Jessica Sheph- ard is No. 1 on my list," McGraw said. Fighting through an injured an- kle, Shepard produced 13 points and 12 rebounds in the win versus Marquette, and 24 points and 12 re- bounds against Syracuse, making her the first Irish player to register three consecutive double-doubles since Natalie Achonwa during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Like Achonwa, she is an excellent passer in the high post, but her low- post power game and repertoire on offense might rival that of National Player of the Year Ruth Riley (1997- 2001). Shepard even drilled 28 three- pointers at Nebraska last season. "That's still a piece of my game, but we don't really need that right now," Shepard said. "For me to go down in the block and take care of business is what I need to focus on." And good health, above all. ✦ Three-Point Play 1. On The Defensive — With a roster ravaged by attrition, Notre Dame has looked to play zone defense more often — but not always voluntarily. "If we could play both ends of the floor, we would be a great team," head coach Muffet McGraw said of her No. 2-ranked Irish in December. "I know we can score, we have a lot of weapons on offense — we just don't have the commitment to defense right now that we need. "… I am just really frustrated with our inability to defend. We can't contain the ball, our rotation's bad, we're giving up threes. … We have so much work to do on defense." 2. The Glue — While Jessica Shepard's waiver in November was a godsend, senior Kathryn Westbeld's gradual return to form while increasing her minutes on a sore ankle in December also was pivotal. Referred to as the glue of the team because of her combination of savvy and skills, Westbeld aver- aged 13 points and six rebounds per game during the crucial three-game sweep of DePaul, Marquette and Syracuse, while shooting a blistering 78.9 per- cent from the field, including 3 of 3 beyond the arc versus Syracuse. Her offensive rebound and put back against Marquette helped put the game into overtime prior to the Irish victory. 3. League Dominance — Following the 96-73 win at Wake Forest Dec. 31, the Irish are 76-2 against ACC schools — which includes the postseason league tournament — since joining for the 2013-14 season. They also are 33-0 at Purcell Pavilion in ACC play. Overall the past six years, Notre Dame is 95-3 in league play and has won six straight regular-season conference titles (two Big East and four ACC). — Lou Somogyi Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld has gradually recovered from offseason surgery on her ankle, and averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while shooting 78.9 percent from the field in wins over DePaul, Marquette and Syracuse during December. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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