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ND Women’s Basketball

Shorthanded Irish set to welcome Buckeyes

| Wednesday, December 2, 2015

No. 3 Notre Dame will face the biggest test of its 2015 season so far when No. 10 Ohio State visits Purcell Pavilion on Wednesday for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, starting off a string of three games against top-25 teams.

The Irish (6-0) are coming off their closest game of the season, a 92-84 overtime victory over No. 24 UCLA on Saturday, which marked their only game against a ranked opponent thus far. The Buckeyes (4-2), on the other hand, have already taken on the top two teams in the country in Connecticut and South Carolina, though both matchups ended in losses.

“I think they feel like they can play with anyone,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s a great measuring stick to see where we are right now, because they are one of, if not the best team in the Big Ten. … They gave South Carolina a great game.”

Irish senior guard Hannah Huffman, center, leads a fast break with junior forward Kristina Nelson, left, and freshman guard Marina Mabrey, right, during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion. Huffman had a team-high seven rebounds, while Mabrey scored six points and Nelson added four points in the win.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer

Irish senior guard Hannah Huffman, center, leads a fast break with junior forward Kristina Nelson, left, and freshman guard Marina Mabrey, right, during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion. Huffman had a team-high seven rebounds, while Mabrey scored six points and Nelson added four points in the win.

McGraw said her main concern Saturday is defending Buckeyes sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, who she called “the most exciting player in college basketball.” Mitchell scored 42 points in Ohio State’s win over then-No. 9 Texas A&M on Saturday, earning her national Player of the Week honors.

“We have to slow Mitchell down,” McGraw said. “We’re not gonna stop her. We’re not gonna hold her scoreless. She’s going to get hers. She’s averaging like 25 or 26 [points per game], so we’d like to keep her to a little less than that, if we could. But she’s absolutely the key.”

Slowing down the rest of the fast-paced Buckeye offense will also be crucial to Notre Dame’s game plan, McGraw said.

“They get the ball and within two to three seconds, they’re into their offense,” she said. “They really move the ball quickly. Transition offense is huge for them, they like to run, they score a lot of points. They’ve got some kids who can shoot the ball on the perimeter. So they have a really good team.”

Meanwhile, looming large for the Irish is the absence of sophomore forward and 2014 ACC Freshman of the Year Brianna Turner, who will miss the game Wednesday and could be sidelined longer due to a shoulder injury she suffered in practice last week.

“We’re not as good as we’ve been the past five years with Brianna out of the lineup. … You don’t lose the [preseason] ACC Player of the Year and not miss a beat,” McGraw said. “I think that our guard play is very good, but we’re young, with two freshmen All-Americans [Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale]. [Junior guard] Lindsay [Allen], of course, is one of the best point guards in the nation.

“ … We’re going to score in different ways, we’re going to win in different ways, we’re going to have a lot more close games than we’ve had in the past, so I think a lot of it’s going to depend on how we shoot the ball each game.”

Notre Dame’s frontcourt woes are exacerbated by the struggles of junior forward Taya Reimer, who started almost every game last season but is dealing with an Achilles injury and just beginning to ease back into the rotation.

Irish junior forward Tara Reimer attacks the basket during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer

Irish junior forward Tara Reimer attacks the basket during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

“You’re going to be a little rusty when you’ve been out for three months and haven’t been able to really practice, so I think it was great having her back in the lineup, and that’s all I can say about that,” McGraw said of Reimer’s limited return to game action last week.

The game against Ohio State certainly has implications in terms of rankings, but for McGraw, it has personal significance as well. Buckeyes head coach Kevin McGuff, who just reached 300 wins with his team’s victory over Texas A&M, worked for her as an assistant coach for several years, including Notre Dame’s 2001 championship season. His wife Letitia also played for McGraw at Notre Dame from 1991-1995.

“I think just with [McGuff] and Letitia meeting here … I was responsible for that whole marriage and the five kids, and so I just feel like a part of that bigger family,” McGraw said. “It’s great to see him succeed. I knew he was going to.

“ … I’m godmother to one of their kids. It’s a close relationship, and it’s a tough game to play, because you hate to play people you really care about, so it’ll be a little tough, but once the game starts, I’m sure we’ll both be competitors.”

Notre Dame and Ohio State will meet at Purcell Pavilion at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the first of three top-25 clashes for the Irish, who then travel to No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday and host No. 23 DePaul next Wednesday.

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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