Jessica Shepard’s inside presence proves to impact Irish immediately

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Until the NCAA approved Notre Dame power forward Jessica Shepard’s transfer waiver on Nov. 1, the day the Irish faced Indiana University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition game, neither she nor the Irish coaches were certain how to proceed.

Shepard’s talent through two seasons at Nebraska was obvious — she was first-team All-Big Ten as a freshman — and no one doubted whether she could help right away. Dare they run her much with the first team, teaching her the nuances of an offense and a defense she might not need for another season? Or should they limit her to the scout team?

“The hardest thing for me was that you kind of want to build some things around her,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Then, at the same time, you think, ‘Well, if she’s not going to play, you’re wasting all this time.’ So learning she could play at the last minute made it a little bit tougher, because we weren’t really geared to throwing it inside as much.”

Fortunately for the Irish, Shepard proved a good fit with the players around her — outgoing, adaptable, coachable and a quick learner.

With Notre Dame down to seven scholarship players thanks to a 10-month run of knee ligament tears, Shepard’s inside presence has pushed the 33-3 Irish into their eighth Final Four, where UConn (36-0) awaits in Friday’s semifinals.

Shepard, who finished second on the team in scoring (15.6 points per game) and led in rebounding (8.1), had 18 points and nine rebounds in Monday’s 84-74 victory over Oregon in the Elite Eight, but that’s far from the best she’s played this season.

Her first of 14 double-doubles this season came in the season opener against Mount St. Mary’s — 10 days after the NCAA declared her eligible — when she netted 18 points and 11 rebounds in just 19 minutes.

Her career-high 39 points on Dec. 17 against DePaul set a Purcell Pavilion scoring record, breaking Ruth Riley’s mark by three and falling two short of the overall school record shared by Riley and Jewell Loyd. In the postseason, she posted five consecutive double-doubles from the ACC semifinals to the Sweet 16,nfl jerseys cheap authentic¬† the first Irish player in 15 years with such a run. She missed a sixth by one rebound. In four NCAA tournament games, she averaged 20 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds.

“She’s really come along because she’s really special,” McGraw said. “She can rebound. She can put it on the floor. She can pass. She can score in a lot of different ways. So I think her impact is continual. I think she is continuing to improve.