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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish head to Tennessee

| Monday, January 20, 2014

The No. 2 Irish will face one of the marquee programs in women’s basketball Monday night when they travel to Knoxville, Tenn., to take on the No. 12 Lady Vols.

Although Notre Dame (16-0, 4-0 ACC) beat three ranked teams in the first month of the season, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Tennessee (14-3, 3-2 SEC) will “definitely” be Notre Dame’s biggest test of the season so far.

“[Junior center] Isabelle Harrison is their leading scorer, but [junior guard] Ariel Massengale is having a great year at the point, and [senior guard] Meighan Simmons has been an SEC Player of the Year candidate,” McGraw said. “They’ve got [sophomore forward] Bashaara Graves coming off the bench; she’s very good. They’ve got a lot of depth, so this is probably the first team that can match our depth.”

The Lady Vols are remarkably even when it comes to sharing the ball: Harrison, Simmons and Massengale, Tennessee’s leading scorers, each average just over 13 points a game, while Graves averages nearly 11 points per game.

“We’ve had some work at guarding the point guards,” McGraw said. “But Tennessee’s a different team in size, too. They have great inside players, so they’re a very good team.”

Tennessee won eight national championships under legendary coach Pat Summitt, who coached the team from 1974 to 2012. Current head coach Holly Warlick is now in her second year at the helm of the program and has led to Lady Vols to a 41-11 record since replacing Summitt.

“She’s doing a great job, and I think in a tough situation when she first took over,” McGraw said. “She’s really done a fantastic job there. Their recruiting is excellent. They have really good players. She’s a really good coach, and they have great fans, so it’s going to be a really difficult place for us to play.

“It’s going to be a hostile environment, but it’s going to be like an NCAA tournament game, so it’s going to be great preparation for us down the road.”

Tennessee has one of the largest fan bases in women’s basketball, and McGraw said many of those fans will be rooting against the Irish in 21,678-capacity Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night.

“We’ve played in front of some pretty good crowds so far,” McGraw said. “I thought that the crowd at Virginia was very good. Oregon State had a really nice crowd. It’s not as good as our crowd, but when they’re all cheering against you, it sounds really loud. They’re probably going to have 10-to-15,000 at the game, so it’ll be a phenomenal crowd.”

Although Tennessee is talented, several other teams have proven that it is not invincible, even at home. The Lady Vols lost at No. 4 Stanford by six points on Dec. 21, and fell on the road to No. 24 Vanderbilt, 74-63, on Jan. 12. No. 14 LSU dealt Tennessee its only home loss of the year on Jan. 2, edging out the Lady Vols, 80-77.

The Irish look to give Tennessee its second home loss of the season at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The game begins at 7 p.m. tonight.

 

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