ND Women’s Basketball
ND looks to rebound against DePaul
Greg Hadley | Wednesday, December 9, 2015
The Blue Demons are back, once again catching the Irish fresh off their first loss of the season.
No. 3 Notre Dame will play a No. 18 DePaul squad in early December following a loss to archrival Connecticut — for the second year in a row.
The Irish (7-1) will even be without sophomore forward Brianna Turner due to injury, just like they were last season.
Notre Dame will also be without junior forward Taya Reimer, who is battling a nagging Achilles ailment, leaving the Irish to run a four-guard lineup, with either sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld or junior forward Kristina Nelson acting as the only players in the post.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw doesn’t see a big problem with that, though.
“I love four guards,” McGraw said. “We’ve done that in the past quite a bit. The offense just flows better when you have four perimeter players out there who can all score. It’s a good thing for us, we just need to rebound better, and that’s probably the biggest weakness of it.”
The Blue Demons (6-2), however, have not dominated their opponents on the boards or in the paint this year. They rank 128th in the nation in rebounding margin (2.8) and 313th in blocked shots per game (1.8).
Instead, DePaul features a smaller rotation of almost entirely guards, and the Blue Demons lead the nation in steals per game and rank 16th in 3-pointers per game.
“I expect they’re going to shoot 25 to 30 [3-pointers], and they want an up-tempo game,” McGraw said. “They like to press, they like to wreak havoc defensively.
“Offensively, they like to shoot, but all five of their kids can shoot 3s, so that’s a challenge for our big kids to get out there and guard them.”
For Westbeld, guarding DePaul senior forward Megan Podkowa may be a challenge, but it certainly can’t be any harder than her previous assignment: UConn senior forward and two-time AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.
In Notre Dame’s 91-81 loss to the Huskies on Saturday, Westbeld collected just three points and eight rebounds, but her performance since Turner and Reimer went down has been strong, McGraw said.
“Kathryn is playing great, she’s having a great year,” McGraw said. “I’m really happy with everything she’s doing, and she can continue to do more. She’s our only post presence right now, so we’d like to use her a little bit more. I don’t think we gave her enough opportunities in the past few games because we were shooting the three so well. But at some point we’re going to have to look inside and really try to work the inside out a little bit more.”
Westbeld is the only returning post player with any extensive experience for Notre Dame, but she is playing even more minutes as of late, and that combined with an August surgery has made McGraw wary of over-using the sophomore, she said.
A year ago, Westbeld fouled out against the Blue Demons in just 11 minutes of play, and the Irish needed a program-record-tying 41 points from Jewell Loyd to edge DePaul, 94-93, in overtime.
Without Loyd, McGraw said the Irish must rely on its captains and senior leaders to bring intensity to the matchup, Notre Dame’s fourth in a row against a ranked opponent.
“[Graduate student guard Madison Cable and senior guard Hannah Huffman], in addition to [senior guard Michaela Mabrey and junior guard Lindsay Allen], have made a really big difference just in terms of the overall attitude,” McGraw said. “That fight and that willingness to battle comes from those four players.”
Conference play is still three weeks away for Notre Dame, but McGraw said nonconference stretches such as the current one will pay dividends for the Irish later on in the year.
“I didn’t realize we would be playing four ranked teams in a row, so that has been quite challenging for us with our depleted bench, but I think it can only help you,” McGraw said. “This time of year, it’s all about how you play and what you can do, not so much wins and losses.”
Notre Dame and DePaul square off Wednesday at Purcell Pavilion. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.