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ND Women’s Basketball: Notre Dame relies on depth for early season success

Samantha Zuba | Thursday, December 5, 2013

 

Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, senior guard Kayla McBride and senior forward Natalie Achonwa may be the returning stars, but the story so far this year for No. 4 Notre Dame has emerged from the team’s quiet depth.

Six players are averaging double-figure points per game: Loyd (17.2), McBride (15.5), freshman forward Taya Reimer (12.2), freshman guard Lindsay Allen (10.8), Achonwa (10.7) and sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (10.5). Junior guard Madison Cable (5.3) and senior forward Ariel Braker (4.7) make regular contributions as well.

The Irish (6-0) need only five players on the court at a time, and they can count on at least eight to score. That’s a serious strength to have.

Only four players averaged double-figure points last year for Connecticut, the eventual NCAA Champion, but 10 of 11 players averaged double-figure minutes. When every player contributed some points during those minutes, it added up-and led to a National Championship.

The point is that depth matters. Notre Dame spreads the floor differently than the Huskies (9-0), but it’s a winning formula. Especially when teams get deep into a season and injuries and fatigue take their toll, wealth of talent keeps a team going.

Ten players averaged in double-digit minutes last season for the Irish, and they need to recreate the same performance this year.

Cable and Braker provide steady support, and their performances last year suggest that they will continue to reliably put up solid numbers.

Cable averaged 16.3 minutes per game, mostly off of the bench. She took advantage of her supporting role and scored 4.0 points per game in addition to posting 101 rebounds, 29 assists and 22 steals on the season.

Braker averaged over 20 minutes, and recorded 193 rebounds, 62 assists, 45 blocks and 39 steals on the season in addition to scoring 5.4 points per game.

And Notre Dame still has potential to unlock in its freshman class.

Reimer and Allen have already broken out for the Irish and played a lot of minutes, but freshman forward Kristina Nelson and freshman center Diamond Thompson have yet to develop into strong supporting players. That’s good for Notre Dame because it means the Irish have room to grow as the season progresses.

Some returning players are waiting in the wings too. Sophomore guard Hannah Huffman and junior forward Markisha Wright have averaged 11.3 and 10.5 minutes per game, but haven’t produced offensively yet. Notre Dame will have two additional threats if Huffman and Wright take advantage of their playing time. Junior guard Whitney Holloway averaged 10.3 minutes per game last year and could also vie for court time.

Every player could contribute for the Irish, which means everyone will have to work hard to see game action. Irish coach Muffet McGraw will have plenty of options moving forward, and her experience should help her to dole out playing time well and avoid a cutthroat situation.

A wealth of talent therefore has no downside for the Irish.

Against Penn State on Wednesday, fewer players on the Notre Dame bench saw action. Seven players scored, and four players posted double figures, but Loyd, Achonwa and McBride each played over 30 minutes, which is more than they average. As the season goes on, however, the Irish should find a comfortable bench rotation.

So far this season, Notre Dame really has not been challenged. The smallest margin of victory for the Irish was 16 points in a 92-76 win over DePaul on Nov. 26. Now is the time for McGraw to test her own team and figure out who can play big minutes for Notre Dame.

The Irish will be tested by other teams this season, and they need to be ready.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu