ND Women’s Basketball
Irish set to travel to top-ranked Huskies
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, December 4, 2015
It’s not too often that a team’s biggest challenge comes in the eighth game of its season, but Saturday’s game on the road against No. 1 Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic might just be No. 3 Notre Dame’s toughest test this season.
Following tight wins over No. 24 UCLA and No. 10 Ohio State earlier this week, the Irish (7-0) now prepare for a road test against the Huskies (5-0), who have won 42 straight games dating back to last season and are the reigning three-time national champions — a title they beat the Irish to earn the last two seasons.
On paper, the challenge the Huskies present is daunting. The last game they lost at Gampel Pavilion was in fact to the Irish, but it was three seasons ago in the 2013 Big East Championship game. Additionally, they dismantled the same Buckeyes team the Irish just squeaked by against at home 75-72. Connecticut ran away from the Buckeyes, 100-56, in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 16.
As if the task of playing the Huskies was not daunting enough, the Irish will also have to do so short-handed yet again. For the fourth-straight game the Irish will be without reigning ACC Player of the Year sophomore forward Brianna Turner.
Moreover, the team will soon find out if it can expect Turner back in the lineup at any point this season, Irish head coach McGraw said.
“[Brianna] is either going to have [season-ending] surgery right away, or try to play in a brace,” McGraw said. “She can’t play in the next week or so, so they’ll have some time to think it over.”
Missing Turner’s presence in the interior forces the team to mix defensive schemes and play better team defense to prevent conceding easy baskets, McGraw said.
“She makes such a difference for our team,” McGraw said. “We just don’t have the shot-blocking, and I thought [Ohio State] made a lot of shots around the basket that [Turner] maybe would have altered. We gotta do a better job of not letting them get that far. We gotta get more physical, help down, trap the block and be a little more active defensively.”
Graduate student guard Madison Cable said the team did not play strong team defense against the Buckeyes and needs to do more to compensate for Turner’s absence.
“Bri’s a really big presence around the hoop,” Cable said. “She either blocks the shot or alters it, so we have to play better defense.”
However, the injury bug has been a challenge the Irish have managed to play through and remain unscathed in the loss column thus far. And, on a more positive note, junior forward Taya Reimer continues to increase her playing time after being cleared to return from injury earlier this season, McGraw said.
“[Reimer] is allowed to play,” McGraw said. “It’s kind of up to her pain tolerance, so we’re going to have to manage that and figure that out.”
Given the injuries and tight games the team has played this week, McGraw said the big goal for the Irish right now is to find a way be productive in practice while giving everyone, like junior guard Lindsay Allen, the rest they need before Saturday’s game. Allen played 39 of the 40 minutes in Wednesday night’s victory over Ohio State.
“We got to rest a little bit,” McGraw said. “[Sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld is] playing a ton of minutes inside. I think the guards can handle the minutes because we got some depth at guard, but the post is gonna have to rest a little bit.”
Offensively, the Irish plan to continue practicing the Princeton offense that suits the roster’s current makeup best in preparation for the Huskies, McGraw said.
“Playing four guards is really great for our offense,” McGraw said. “ … I think that we have the stuff that we need, we just have to work together a little bit more in it.
“I think that we’ll see some similar things that we saw [against Ohio State] defensively, so we got a good chance to work on some of them.”
Ultimately, McGraw said the most important thing for her team is to carry confidence into the game and believe it can come away with the victory when the Irish and Huskies tip on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut.
“[Belief] is really important,” McGraw said. “I think that’s such a big part of the game no matter who you play. You have to believe in yourself and think you can win.”