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ND Women’s Basketball

Westbeld staying focused in her first NCAA tourney

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015

As unpredictable as the NCAA tournament can be, there are a few certainties for No. 1 seed Notre Dame in its game against No. 4 seed Stanford on Friday.

It’ll definitely be warm in Oklahoma City, or at least warmer than South Bend.

Irish players, coaches and staff will all sport their traditional postseason green nail polish.

And freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld will be set for the 10 p.m. tipoff at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I think it’s more exciting because this is what you really play for all year long,” Westbeld said about the difference between the regular season and the NCAA tournament. “It’s finally here, so I’m just really excited and ready to play.”

Irish freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld plays defense during Notre Dame’s 77-43 win over Montana on Friday.Michael Yu | The Observer

Irish freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld plays defense during Notre Dame’s 77-43 win over Montana on Friday.

Pregame jitters and anticipation are common in any locker room before a game in the tournament, when one bad performance can make the offseason a few days too long.

Even though she’s in the middle of her first postseason go-round, Westbeld said she has figured out how to channel any butterflies before the opening tip.

“You want to focus on the next game, and I just kind of take that excitement and bring as much energy as I can when I come in the game, and that’s really what my main goal and one of the roles I play is,” she said.

Westbeld proved she knew how to play that role in Notre Dame’s 77-43 first-round win over No. 16 seed Montana last Friday at Purcell Pavilion. Checking in three minutes into the game, she pulled down eight rebounds in the first half and notched 10 total boards, leading all players, along with eight points and four steals.

“We were definitely happy for her,” Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd said. “She’s a big-time player. She comes from a history of basketball where all she knows is success, so it was nothing new for us.”

The Kettering, Ohio, native wracked up major accolades during her time at Fairmont High School, including McDonald’s All-American honors and four Ohio all-state selections.

However, Westbeld earned those honors while playing a different role for Fairmont than she currently does for Notre Dame.

“She was recruited as a shooter, not really a post player, so when she got here, she kind of had to transform her game a little bit,” Loyd said. “ … But her confidence is very high right now. She’s very smart, so she understands the game, so just for her, figuring out where she could score and how she can help us has really grown.”

Though her transition to the college game looks solid based on the stat sheet — she has played in all 35 games this year, averaging 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.1 minutes on the floor — Westbeld said she has learned by making those adjustments in her first season in an Irish uniform.

“You come from being one of the best in high school and you get to college, it’s a completely different experience and game out here,” she said. “It’s a lot faster, so you’ve really just got to take it from what you’ve done in practice is how you’re going to play in a game. So if you don’t go hard in practice, it’s not going to translate over into the game.”

She said she has also noticed a new vibe on the team during these crucial days in mid-March.

“After we came back from the ACC tournament after our break, you could just tell it was a different atmosphere,” she said. “It was a different feeling to our practices. It just feels a lot more intense, and you can tell, so I think that just had a lot to do with it.”

Westbeld continues her first NCAA tournament with the Irish on Friday, when Notre Dame takes on Stanford in a Sweet 16 matchup in Oklahoma City.

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