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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame to face struggling Virginia Tech

| Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No. 4 Notre Dame is coming off its longest break in a month, to face a .500 Virginia Tech squad in the bottom tier of the ACC on Thursday, on a floor in Blacksburg, Virginia, where the Hokies have lost three of their last four.

To Irish coach Muffet McGraw, all that means is another opportunity for the Irish (19-2, 6-1 ACC) to keep improving.

“[We have to] just continue with the defense,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to be able to mix up our defenses to figure out if our zone is going to be effective or not. Man-to-man, we’ve got to be a little more aware of who the good players are on the other team that we’re trying to stop. Play more team defense than individual defense.”

Defense, always a point of emphasis for McGraw’s, has been a particular area of concern for the Irish since last Thursday, when the team allowed Georgia Tech to shoot 50 percent from the field but still managed to hold on for the 89-76 win.

Irish sophomore forward Taya Reimer shoots a free throw in Notre Dame’s 89-76 win against Georgia Tech on Jan. 22.Kat Robinson | The Observer

Irish sophomore forward Taya Reimer shoots a free throw in Notre Dame’s 89-76 win against Georgia Tech on Jan. 22.

After the game, McGraw challenged her squad to improve its effort, and the players responded with a 74-36 win over Clemson on Saturday. The Tigers shot 28.6 percent from the field and turned the ball over 19 times. The Irish also dominated the boards, outrebounding Clemson, 46-26.

Sophomore forward Taya Reimer chipped in eight rebounds in the game, matching her output against Georgia Tech. Since her return to the starting lineup three games ago, Reimer has displayed a newfound forceful attitude, McGraw said.

“She’s got a different mindset,” McGraw said. “I feel like she’s been really aggressive, looking to score, and she’s really attacking the backboard. I feel like she’s rebounding like it is something that she really wants to do. I think she’s trying to go out and get a double-double every game, which is exactly what we need her to do.”

The Hokies (10-10, 1-6), led by freshman forward Regan Magarity, have outrebounded their opponents by a 5.7 margin this season, compared to 8.9 for the Irish. Meanwhile, their assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.73 falls well short of Notre Dame’s 1.27.

Notre Dame’s leader in assists, sophomore guard Lindsay Allen, is coming off a rough stretch of games but has steadied herself recently, McGraw said.

“She had a couple games where she didn’t look to score enough, and after you establish yourself as one of the top three scorers, then we need to rely on that every game,” McGraw said. “She’s been a little sloppy with the ball, and I thought [her] seven assists [and] one turnover [against Clemson] was more like what she’s capable of. That’s the kind of game I expect from her … a lot of assists with just one turnover a game.”

Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Allens races past a Georgia Tech defender in the Notre Dame win on Jan. 22.Amy Ackermann

Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Allens races past a Georgia Tech defender in the Notre Dame win on Jan. 22.

Allen has also grown into a leader for the young Irish squad as the season has progressed, McGraw said.

“I think she’s talking more,” McGraw said. “I hear her talking more at practice. I can see her in the game, looks like she’s talking more to the team, so that’s where we need her to be. She has to be the voice of the huddle.”

Both Notre Dame and Virginia Tech feature young lineups, with the Hokies having only one senior, guard Kelsey Conyers, on their entire roster and the Irish starting none of their three seniors.

With Thursday’s matchup, the Hokies will wrap up a three-game homestand, while the Irish play the first game in a stretch of four over 11 days. Notre Dame plays nine total games in January, its most in any month during the regular season, and has relied on its depth to persevere through that stretch, McGraw said.

“I think [senior guard] Madison Cable and [freshman forward] Kathryn Westbeld have been playing well,” she said. “[Junior guard] Hannah Huffman gave us some really good minutes in the Clemson game, and she’s somebody that has had some good games for us this year …”

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd drives to the hoop in a win against Georgia Tech last Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.Amy Ackermann | The Observer

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd drives to the hoop in a win against Georgia Tech last Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.

The game also marks the midway point in Notre Dame’s ACC schedule. Junior guard Jewell Loyd was named the midseason national player of the year by espnW on Monday, but McGraw said she thinks Loyd can continue to improve in the latter half of the year.

“She can get better,” McGraw said. “I think she’s having a fantastic year. She is really playing well. She’s shooting the ball well. She’s starting to rebound a little bit more now, which is something we need her to do, so I think that she is the best player in the country, and I’m happy that other people think so too. But I think for her, she just wants to win …”

Notre Dame and Virginia Tech square off tonight in Blacksburg, Virginia, at 7 p.m.

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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