Freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld made the most of her NCAA postseason debut on Friday night, collecting eight points, a game-high 10 rebounds and a career-best four steals in a 77-43 first-round win over Montana at Purcell Pavilion.

IRISH EXTRA: Westbeld Not a Rookie Any More

March 21, 2015

Irish NCAA Tournament Central | NCAA 1st/2nd Round Central

Kathryn Westbeld returned to the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team after spending a few days at her Kettering, Ohio, home for Christmas break, and was greeted with a message from Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw:

“You’re not a freshman any more.”

At practice, Westbeld heard the message from associate head coach, Carol Owens:

“You’re not a freshman any more.”

During practice, in the locker room, as the Irish played one Atlantic Coast Conference game after another, Westbeld heard the message from her teammates:

“You’re not a freshman any more.”

On Friday night, Westbeld made her NCAA Championship debut, but she played with the poise and power of a veteran.

Westbeld scored eight points, muscled inside for a game-high 10 rebounds and ripped off a career-high four steals to help the No. 1 seed Fighting Irish storm past No. 16 seed Montana 77-43 at Purcell Pavilion in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship.

Notre Dame (32-2) advances to play No. 9 seed DePaul (27-7). The Blue Demons knocked off No. 8 seed Minnesota 79-72 Friday. Notre Dame beat DePaul 94-93 in overtime on Dec. 10. The Irish played the regular-season game at DePaul without post Brianna Turner (13.8 points, 7.8 rebounds), who was injured.

Tip-off for Sunday’s second-round battle between the Irish and Blue Demons is set for 9 p.m. EDT at Purcell Pavilion, with ESPN televising the game live to a national audience.

Westbeld, a 6-foot-2 post, entered NCAA play averaging 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. She continued a hot streak with her three-of-three shooting against Montana. Westbeld is shooting 14 of 21 in her last five games (67 percent). In the previous three games, she was three of 12 shooting (25 percent).

McGraw said the mantra of telling first-year players that they are no longer freshmen is by design.

“Freshmen have to grow up in a hurry when they’re getting that much playing time, and Kat really has,” McGraw said. “We tell them, when you come back from Christmas, you’re no longer a freshman. You’re a veteran.”

According to Westbeld, the mentality that she’s not a freshman has played a big role in her vital production off the bench.

“The area I think I’ve developed the most in is not having the mentality that I’m a freshman,” Westbeld said. “When everybody said, ‘You’re not a freshman any more,’ I think I really took that into my head. That’s how I’ve been trying to play.

“When I did think I was a freshman, I played like a freshman. I was nervous and timid. I wasn’t playing my game. Now, I’m getting more comfortable. We have good chemistry. It’s really helped the team.”

McGraw loved the way Westbeld gave the Irish instant impact against Montana.

“The rebounding was huge,” McGraw said of Westbeld’s 10 boards. “That’s something we really needed.”

McGraw also loves the recent increase in scoring efficiency by Westbeld, who has been strong most of the season. She was third in the ACC in field-goal percentage (53 percent).

“I thought Kat was really effective down low, around the basket,” McGraw said. “She had great hands. She caught everything we threw at her. She did a nice job of scoring inside and got to the free-throw line, and she also had a career high in steals (four). Kat really had a nice, all-around game.”

Westbeld said her three of three shooting was a credit to her teammates.

“It was just a matter of getting into position,” Westbeld said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. I just wanted to go out and show a lot of energy, and I think that’s what I did. I came out ready to play, and it definitely showed on the court.”

Turner, a 6-foot-3 post, said Westbeld has great offensive skills inside.

“I would definitely say she’s super crafty with creating her shot,” Turner said. “I’m a shot blocker, but I can honestly never block her shot in practice because she just has really good shot control.”

Although Westbeld played like a veteran in her NCAA debut, there was still the special awareness that comes with the first tournament experience.

“Just knowing it was the first game of the tournament, something just hit me today,” Westbeld said. “I was like, ‘Wow, we’re finally in the NCAA tournament.’ This is what kids dream of.”

And for Westbeld, eight points and 10 rebounds in her NCAA debut is also the stuff dreams are made of.

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent