ND Women’s Basketball
Blue Devils to test Irish on boards
Greg Hadley | Monday, February 16, 2015
It’s been more than a month since any team has out-rebounded No. 4 Notre Dame, but the Irish will face their biggest obstacle of the year tonight against No. 11 Duke at Purcell Pavilion.
The Blue Devils (19-6, 10-2 ACC) lead the nation in rebounding margin and are fourth in defensive rebounds per game. They grab 13.8 more boards per game than their opponents, and the frontcourt duo of senior forward/center Elizabeth Williams (8.4) and freshman forward Azurá Stevens (8.2) both average more rebounds than Notre Dame’s leader, freshman forward Brianna Turner (7.5).
“They’re so big and strong, and they rebound so well,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “And their guards rebound well, too. So we’ve got to do a better job boxing out than we have all season long. This is a real challenge for us.”
Eight Duke players stand taller than 6 feet, and redshirt freshman guard Rebecca Greenwell puts up six boards per night, better than any Irish guard. And while McGraw said she is confident that her pair of forwards, Turner and sophomore Taya Reimer, can match up against Williams and Stevens, she said she wants to see more from her backcourt.
“We have a good frontcourt, but it’s a team rebounding thing that I’m worried about,” McGraw said. “[Junior guard] Michaela [Mabrey]’s got to rebound, [sophomore guard] Lindsay [Allen]’s got to rebound, we’ve got to get everyone on the boards.”
Mabrey and Allen combine to collect 5.4 rebounds per game for the Irish (23-2, 10-1 ACC), but they were both shut out completely in Notre Dame’s last game Feb. 8 against Boston College.
In that game, Mabrey set a career-high in points (20) and shot 50 percent from the field, but the Blue Devils will present a tougher challenge on defense for Notre Dame. They have limited their opponents to 33.7 percent from the field this season, good for fifth in the country.
The Eagles were the last team to defeat Duke, topping the Blue Devils, 60-56, on Jan. 22. Since then, they have won six straight, most recently beating Virginia, 71-45, last Thursday. The Irish, on the other hand, have had a full week to rest since besting the Eagles.
“It’s been really good for us to rest,” McGraw said. “We had two days off at the beginning of the week, and we really, mentally, needed a break, so that was good for us. And then we got to work on some new things offensively. We just worked a little bit more on our fundamentals really. We’ve been breaking things down and had a great chance to go back and review the fundamentals.”
The break was also good for junior guard Jewell Loyd, McGraw said. Notre Dame’s leading scorer has put up 17 or fewer points in four of the past five games, below her season average (20.7). During the break, however, she has begun to regain her rythym, McGraw said.
“She’s really ready for this game,” McGraw said. “She’s been shooting really well this week. Her practices have been really good, so I think she’s ready.”
Both Loyd and Turner were named to the watch lists of the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, given to the nation’s top players, last week. Only three other teams in the country — No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 Connecticut and California — had multiple players named on each list.
With only five games left in the regular season, the Irish sit half a game ahead of Duke, No. 7 Florida State and No. 9 Louisville for first place in the ACC. The top four teams all earn double byes in the conference tournament into the quarterfinals, and because of that, McGraw said she is not emphasizing this matchup anymore than usual.
“Every game is important,” McGraw said. “The next five are all important, and they all have equal importance. We’re in the driver’s seat right now.”
Notre Dame and Duke face off tonight in Purcell Pavilion at 9 p.m.