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ND Women’s Basketball

After loss of Turner, top-seeded Notre Dame looks ahead to Sweet 16

| Friday, March 24, 2017

In each of its 35 games up to this point in the season, top-seeded Notre Dame has had junior forward Brianna Turner in its lineup.

But in the aftermath of her season-ending knee injury this past Sunday, the Irish (32-3, 15-1 ACC) will be without their offensive and defensive anchor when they travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to compete against fifth-seeded Ohio State on Friday in the Sweet 16.

Irish junior Brianna Turner goes up for the layup moments before injuring herself during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior Brianna Turner goes up for the layup moments before injuring herself during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue.

“I think after going through this with Natalie Achonwa, and now having to go through it again with [Turner], it just breaks your heart to see them at this point in the season when we’re just starting to peak [and] things are going really well,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “You hate to see it happen to everyone, but certainly when it’s your All-American, who as [ACC] Defensive Player of the Year and somebody that we want to get the ball to, that has to change pretty much everything that we do.”

Although McGraw, her players and the 5,422 spectators packed into Purcell Pavilion saw Turner go down against Purdue, it was not until Tuesday that the Irish announced the junior would be lost for the season, having torn several ligaments — including the ACL and MCL — in her left knee. McGraw said she was surprised to learn the extent of the injury given Turner was able to walk on her own in the minutes following the injury.

“I think the thing that surprised me was how she walked off the floor,” she said. “Everybody saw her walking off and walking back on, and I thought, ‘Please, it can’t be anything too serious if she can walk,’ and it was actually more serious than the ACL.”

And now without their best defensive player and leading scorer, starting Friday, the Irish will need everyone else on the roster to be ready to step up and contribute in Turner’s absence, McGraw said. She added that the goal of a championship has not changed, even if the path has been made a little more difficult.

“I think everybody’s got to do a little bit more, and so I think, in that way, everybody’s really got to be on the same page,” McGraw said. “I think it’s going to be important that we don’t try to go off one-on-one, but that we use this as a team effort and everybody do a little bit more.

“ … It doesn’t change our goals. It probably changes the odds a little bit, but certainly we still have great guard play. We still have really good players — lot of All-Americans — and have a team that’s capable of getting that far.”

One player the Irish will heavily rely upon is junior forward Kathryn Westbeld, who has been nagged by an ankle injury for a large portion of the season. And although she is not fully healthy right now, Westbeld has made it clear she will give her teammates everything she has going forward, McGraw said.

“She’s probably about 60 percent, but she is just like, ‘I’m playing, I need to practice, it’s going to hurt, I just need to get through it,’” McGraw said of Westbeld. “She is ready to go and is going to give us every minute she can.”

Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld looks for a pass during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld looks for a pass during Notre Dame’s 88-82 win over Purdue on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

McGraw said other players the Irish will lean on for minutes at the four and five spots include senior forward Kristina Nelson, freshman forward Erin Boley and perhaps even senior center Diamond Thompson, who was recently cleared to play after being held out due to illness. McGraw said she will probably start Boley against the Buckeyes (28-6, 15-1 Big Ten), though she added she has thought about starting freshman guard Jackie Young if she were to decide to go with a smaller lineup.

And while the Irish have plenty of things to think about internally, they are also well aware of the challenges the Buckeyes present. Their team’s success starts with junior guard Kelsey Mitchell, who leads Ohio State with nearly 23 points per game, a mark good enough for seventh in the country. McGraw said the Irish will take a defense-by-committee approach to defending the junior.

“I think somebody has to be assigned to tag her from the moment the transition begins,” McGraw said of Mitchell. “We’re going to have a lot of different people trying to do that.”

The Irish could also be tasked with another challenge if forward Stephanie Mavunga is cleared to play Friday, as the redshirt junior has been out since Feb. 9 with a foot injury. Although the Buckeyes could be without their best post player, as Mavunga has averaged a double-double in the games she’s played this season, they have plenty of depth to still present a challenge to the Irish post players, McGraw said.

“They have so many post players [that] it’s not going to matter. They have three really good, big kids and some great guards, so it’s going to be a challenge,” McGraw said.

The Irish and Buckeyes will square off Friday in Lexington, Kentucky, with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line. Tipoff at Rupp Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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