ND Women’s Basketball
Irish close out season at home
Samantha Zuba | Thursday, February 27, 2014
The undefeated No. 2 Irish take the court Thursday at Purcell Pavilion for their last regular-season home game against No. 14 North Carolina at 7 p.m.
The contest won’t be an easy one for Notre Dame (27-0, 14-0 ACC), according to Irish coach Muffet McGraw.
“They’re so athletic,” she said. “They are just so incredibly athletic. We don’t have good matchups. It’s really a tough defensive assignment for pretty much everyone on the team.”
Notre Dame faces a Tar Heels team that has beaten six ranked opponents but recently dropped three straight games to unranked Syracuse, Miami and Georgia Tech. The biggest loss during that stretch came against Syracuse (20-8, 9-6), by just five points.
After the losing streak, North Carolina (21-7, 9-5) turned things around and beat two ranked opponents in its next four games. On Feb. 10, the Tar Heels defeated then-No. 3 Duke, 89-78, and they followed up that win with a victory over then-No. 10 NC State on Feb. 16.
In their most recent game, however, the Tar Heels dropped another tight contest to Virginia Tech, 50-47.
The Tar Heels have played better on the road than at home, posting a 7-1 away record, compared to a 10-5 mark at their home court. Only one of North Carolina’s conference losses occurred on the road, when Georgia Tech (17-10, 7-7) pulled out a 91-94 win.
Four underclassmen average double-digit points per game to lead the Tar Heels in scoring: freshman guard Diamond DeShields (18.1), freshman guard Allisha Gray (15.1), sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel (12.2) and freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga (11.2).
McGraw said North Carolina did an exceptional job recruiting for this season.
“They’re the No. 1 class coming in, and they’ve backed it up with what they’ve done this year,” McGraw said.
McGraw said DeShields’s skill set, in particular, will challenge the Irish.
“I think that DeShields is just such a talented player,” McGraw said. “At her size, she’s fast, and she can score, and she can do so many things, that she’s a really difficult matchup for us.”
Notre Dame defeated No. 7 Duke (24-4, 11-3) 81-70 in its most recent game Sunday. Senior guard Kayla McBride scored a career-high 31 points in the victory, as the Irish clinched the ACC regular-season conference title.
McGraw said McBride deserves more national attention for her play this season.
“I think she’s very underrated, because she could get 30 points a game if we let her shoot that many times or she wanted to shoot that many times,” McGraw said. “If she was a selfish player, she could score a lot more points, but she just wants to win, so she’s a team player.”
This week has been a lauded one so far for Notre Dame. Freshman guard Lindsay Allen was named a candidate for the 2013 Nancy Lieberman Award, presented annually to the country’s best point guard, and sophomore guard Jewell was named espnW National Player of the Week, as well as ACC Player of the Week.
Notre Dame has one more regular-season game against NC State (23-5, 10-4) on Sunday before the ACC tournament begins March 7.
Whatever happens in the postseason, the Irish hold the regular-season ACC crown, a title the team was excited to claim, McGraw said.
“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to think we’ve won [a conference title] three years in a row, and the first year in the league, not knowing what to expect,” McGraw said. “Everyone is new.”
Notre Dame and North Carolina tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Purcell Pavilion for the final Irish home game of the season.
Contact Samantha Zuba at email@example.com