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ND Women’s Basketball

Hadley: McGraw right to hold Irish accountable

| Monday, January 26, 2015

In the span of three days, Muffet McGraw went from steaming to satisfied.

That’s not a transition she might be used to making in her 33 years as a coach, but with a squad as young as the No. 6 Irish, she might have to do it a little more often.

Last Thursday, Notre Dame (19-2, 6-1 ACC) defeated Georgia Tech, 89-76. The Irish were coming off a win over No. 5 Tennessee on Jan. 19, so one might be forgiven for thinking that McGraw would be happy just to avoid a let-down upset.

Instead, she ripped into her team’s defensive effort, calling out every player on the squad save one: sophomore forward Taya Reimer, who has had her own share of problems this season.

The Irish seemed to receive the message; they came out against Clemson on Saturday and pummeled the lowly Tigers (9-11, 1-6), 74-36, at one point going on a 40-6 run. Afterwards, McGraw may not have been ecstatic, but she did pronounce herself pleased.

Irish freshman forward Brianna Turner shoots a free throw in an    89-76 victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.Amy Ackermann

Irish freshman forward Brianna Turner shoots a free throw in an 89-76 victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.

College basketball has a long season. Even the best squads sometimes suffer through off-days, receiving scares or worse, from much less talented teams. Especially after the Tennessee upset, one might wonder why McGraw was so harsh in her criticism. Her team did manage to collect a win against a conference opponent and successfully defend its home court.

But if the Irish want to reach or even exceed the lofty marks set by previous years’ teams, they need McGraw to criticize them. They need her to demand more. They need her competitive fire and high standards. They do not need her to congratulate them for allowing a 12-9 squad to shoot 50 percent from the field.

For the first time in six years, McGraw does not have a single senior in her starting lineup. Instead, three freshman see regular minutes for Notre Dame. Obviously, all these players are talented. But a team this young is prone to mental lapses, especially when the outside pressure builds.

A perfect example of this tendency occurred Jan. 8, when Notre Dame, on the road and with rumors swirling around Reimer, went cold from the field and lost to unranked Miami, 78-63. That loss also came after a close win over a ranked opponent, this time 85-74 over then-No. 21 Syracuse on Jan. 4.

After the loss, McGraw said her young team needed something like that to act as “a kick in the pants” so that they would work harder. Fast-forward to the Georgia Tech game, and McGraw was echoing the same sentiments, saying that her squad needed to improve its attitude and toughness.

In years past, McGraw would not have had to be so tough on her team — she had savvy veterans who could call out the underclassmen and hold them accountable for her. Players like Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride and Skylar Diggins could change the entire dynamic of a game solely with their competitive edge, pushing their teammates to match their intensity.

This year, there is no one player that has that effect for Notre Dame. Junior guard Jewell Loyd is one of the best and most exciting players in the country, but she cannot carry the scoring load and re-energize the team at the same time. Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen is still settling into her new role of running the offense while also attacking the rim. The three seniors on the team have a combined six starts between them.

That leaves it up to McGraw to help her players mature as quickly as possible. Public scoldings like the one after Georgia Tech should be no surprise, because if the Irish want to return to a fifth-straight Final Four, they cannot afford to let up, no matter whom they are playing. Whether it’s Connecticut or Clemson, Notre Dame needs Muffet McGraw’s intensity to push them to greatness.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg