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ND Women’s Basketball: McGraw approaches milestone near hometown

Brian Hartnett | Monday, February 4, 2013

Boasting only 17 members at the start of this season, the 700-win club remains one of women’s college basketball’s most exclusive groups. Irish coach Muffet McGraw looks to become the latest member to join this group when No. 2 Notre Dame squares off against Villanova in Villanova, Pa., tonight.

McGraw will have the chance to achieve the milestone in a region of the country she knows well. A Pottsville, Pa., native, McGraw attended and played at Saint Joseph’s in nearby Philadelphia.

“Villanova’s always a big game for me,” she said Saturday. “I’ve got 40 or 50 people coming to the game every year, and my whole family’s from there, so they’ll all be there. My teammates from Saint Joe’s will be there, as they are every year. It’s a very stressful game for me because of all the people there, so I’m going to try not to think about that part of it and play the game.”

McGraw started her head- coaching career at Lehigh in 1982. After five years there, she came to Notre Dame in 1987 and has won 611 games since, compiling a resume that includes one national championship and four Final Fours.

Irish junior guard Kayla McBride said much of McGraw’s success lies in her ability to get the most out of her players.

“Well for me, I love how she’s always challenging me,” McBride said of her coach. “It’s not about what I’m doing right, it’s about what I can get better at and I’ve always loved that about her. I think she thinks sometimes she’s too hard on me, but I actually secretly love it.”

McGraw’s 699th win came Saturday when the Irish (20-1, 8-0 Big East) defeated Cincinnati 64-42 at Purcell Pavilion. McBride served as the catalyst for the Irish offense, scoring 17 points in the first half and sinking her first seven shot attempts.

Although the outcome of Saturday’s game was rarely in doubt, McGraw said she was disappointed with the energy the team displayed in the victory.

“I thought we looked sluggish, I thought our pace was too slow,” she said after the game. “[Cincinnati] was very deliberate on offense, and I think we got lulled into that, and we can’t do that because we play Villanova next, and they’re going to do the same thing, so we’ve got to be able to set the tone with the tempo.”

Controlling the pace of the game will be critical for Notre Dame against Villanova (16-5, 5-3), an upstart squad that is undefeated at home this season. The Wildcats won 15 of their first 17 games but have dropped three of their last four games, with two of those losses coming in overtime.

Villanova senior forward Laura Sweeney leads the Wildcats in nearly every major statistical category and has seven double-doubles on the season. Senior guard Rachel Roberts sits second on the team in scoring with an average of 10.9 points per game and is the team leader in assists.

With a difficult slate of four games in 11 days now behind them, the Irish should have most of their squad at full health. Sophomore guard Madison Cable, who sat out the Cincinnati game with a sprained ankle, is expected to play tonight. Senior guard Kaila Turner, who suffered a knee injury against St. John’s on Jan. 20, scored 11 points off the bench Saturday and said her recovery is coming along.

“Being injured is not very fun,” Turner said. “I was pretty done with it after day two. I just try to ice [the knee] every day and do therapy when I can.”

McGraw will look for her 700th win, and the Irish will look for their 16th consecutive victory, when they face Villanova tonight at 7 p.m. at The Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu