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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish return to action at MU

Brian Hartnett | Friday, February 15, 2013

After a 93-64 thrashing of No. 10 Louisville at Purcell Pavilion on Monday, the last thing No. 2 Notre Dame probably wanted to see was a six-day layoff potentially kill its momentum.

But Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the break before Sunday’s game at Marquette would go a long way toward helping her team prepare for the home stretch of the season.

“[The break] comes at a good time of the year, since February is a grind,” McGraw said. “The season is long, and we’ve had a lot of weeks where we didn’t have a break at all. In the final week of the season, we have four games in eight or nine days, I think, so the girls need to rest their bodies and, mentally, they need to rest.”

McGraw said the additional practice time would allow the Irish (23-1, 11-0 Big East) to make some adjustments and improvements.

“I think we can put some new things on the offensive side and, defensively, I think we can work on some ideas we’ve had – work on our zone a little bit more,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of things we can fine tune.”

If the Irish were in need of fine-tuning, they didn’t show it Monday night, as they never trailed against the Cardinals (20-5, 8-3). Although Notre Dame only led by 10 at halftime, the Irish outscored Louisville 48-29 in the second half to win by a final margin of 29.

“It was a great win for us because I saw so much improvement on the offensive side,” McGraw said of the Louisville game. “I thought we executed well, I thought we did a great job of looking into the post for [junior forward] Natalie Achonwa and I was just really pleased with how well we shot the ball – it was the best we’ve shot all year long.”

Notre Dame dominated the boards Monday, out-rebounding Louisville 44-23. Achonwa accounted for 12 of the rebounds, but freshman guard Jewell Loyd added nine rebounds of her own.

“Natalie Achonwa’s doing a great job rebounding, and I think the guards are really starting to chip in and help out on the rebounding as well,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame will look to continue its in-conference success and extend its winning streak to 19 games when the Irish travel to Milwaukee to face Marquette (12-12, 4-7) on Sunday. 

The Golden Eagles have shown signs of inconsistency in Big East play. The team earned victories over DePaul and Villanova but also fell to Cincinnati on Wednesday night, a game that marked the Bearcats’ first in-conference victory. Still, McGraw said the Al McGuire Center is always a difficult place to play.

“It’s always tough to play [at Marquette] – they’re always tough at home,” McGraw said. “I think it’s going to be a difficult game for us.”

Junior forward Katherine Plouffe leads the Golden Eagles with 12.9 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Marquette has also received notable contributions from sophomore guard Arlesia Morse, who is second on the team in scoring with 11.7 points per game, and freshman guard Brooklyn Pumroy, who has started 22 of 24 games in her first season.
“[Marquette] has a good inside game,” McGraw said. “Plouffe is somebody that’s played internationally, and she’s had a lot of experience. They also have a couple of good guards.”

Sunday’s nationally televised contest will also be Marquette’s Play4Kay pink game, an event that raises breast cancer awareness and funds for research in the memory of the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow.

Notre Dame will take on Marquette at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu