ND Women’s Basketball
Griffin: Freshmen show no nerves in NCAA debut
Renee Griffin | Friday, March 20, 2015
In the 77-43 rout of Montana on Friday night, the Irish freshmen made it abundantly clear that they aren’t afraid of the big stage that the NCAA tournament presents.
Freshman forward Brianna Turner put up 12 points, second most on the team behind only junior guard Jewell Loyd. Turner also recorded a block and four rebounds.
Freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld, meanwhile, came off the bench to add a team-high 10 rebounds along with eight points and four steals.
Turner did commit three turnovers in the game, but they were made irrelevant by the overall dominance of the Irish, both on the attack and on defense.
Her constant defensive presence played a role in limiting the Grizzlies to a dismal 30.6 shooting percentage, while her 5-of-8 shooting contributed to Notre Dame’s 62.3-percent performance. After all, she has the best field-goal percentage in the country and is fifth in school history in single-season blocks with 78.
The Irish have been depending on Turner inside for some time now, evidenced by the fact that she was absent due to injury in one of Notre Dame’s two losses, the game against Connecticut.
Turner was also unable to play against DePaul, which, coincidentally, the Irish will face on Sunday in round two. Notre Dame defeated the ninth-seeded Blue Demons in December in overtime by a single point, and Turner’s production will certainly help in preventing DePaul from upsetting the Irish.
Westbeld’s performance was more unexpected but no less crucial. The Irish went into the game with a distinct size advantage in the post, but rebounding was actually an area where they did not outpace the Grizzlies by much, hauling in 38 rebounds to Montana’s 32. Westbeld, however, excelled on the boards, reaching the double-digits in rebounds for only the second time in her career.
Both freshmen have benefitted from playing with the skilled veterans on the team, as it’s easier to make layups when Loyd and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen (who had seven assists in the game) are flawlessly feeding the ball to the post with consistency.
It’s impossible to tell how a player will respond to her first game in March Madness, in which a single loss will end a season. In this case, Turner and Westbeld rose to the challenge.
On a team that has extensive NCAA tournament experience despite its youth, the ability of the freshmen to step up when the stakes were high was a question going into the game. The stand-out performances of Turner and Westbeld put to rest those fears. And they’ll only get better from here.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.