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ND Women’s Basketball

ND welcomes taller Lady Vols to Purcell Pavilion

| Monday, January 18, 2016

For its final nonconference game of the year, No. 3 Notre Dame hosts a familiar foe Monday night at Purcell Pavilion.

No. 13 Tennessee and Notre Dame have played each other every year for the past five seasons. As two of the most storied programs in women’s basketball, the teams have played 25 times before, but as of late, the Irish (16-1, 5-0 ACC) have dominated the Volunteers (11-5, 2-2 SEC), taking the past five games by an average margin of 15.8 points.

Irish graduate student guard Madison Cable shoots a layup during Notre Dame’s 95-90 victory over DePaul on Dec. 9 at Purcell Pavilion.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer

Irish graduate student guard Madison Cable shoots a layup during Notre Dame’s 95-90 victory over DePaul on Dec. 9 at Purcell Pavilion.

This year, both squads enter the matchup coming off unexpectedly tough contests. This past Thursday, Notre Dame never trailed but never quite pulled away from Boston College on the road, pulling out the 63-50 victory over the Eagles, who are currently tied for last place in the ACC.

The Volunteers had even more trouble in their last game, turning the ball over 24 times and surrendering an 11-point halftime lead to fall, 64-59, to Arkansas, who owns a 7-10 record on the year.

For Irish coach Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s biggest issue against Boston College was its inability to generate the fast-paced offense that ranks eighth in the country in points per game.

“We’re averaging 85 points a game, we scored 63,” she said. “They controlled the pace, they controlled the clock, they held the ball. So we didn’t get as many opportunities, there weren’t as many possessions in the game. … We could’ve pressed a little bit more … but we settled for their pace, and that was something that I think we could work on.”

McGraw said she did not think the Irish would have the same trouble with pace against Tennessee, but she did praise the Volunteers’ defense, which ranks 59th in the nation in points allowed per game and 41st in turnovers forced, a particular area of concern for Notre Dame, she said.

“They’re athletic enough to get up and guard the ball and pressure the ball. They can really extend things, they’ve got good length,” McGraw said. “They can really pressure, so we’re going to take care of the ball a lot better than we’ve been doing. We had a couple games there where we had back-to-back games with seven turnovers, so that was great for us, but now we’re back turning it over 16, 17 times a game, so I think controlling the ball is something we definitely we have to do better.”

Tennessee presents another challenge to Notre Dame with its size, McGraw said. Among all players who play 10 or more minutes per game, the Volunteers are on average two inches taller than the Irish, and four of their starters stand six feet or more, compared to just two for Notre Dame.

That height differential will create multiple matchup problems, McGraw said, with perhaps the biggest coming against Tennessee redshirt sophomore guard Diamond DeShields. DeShields stands 6-foot-1 and leads the Volunteers in points, assists and steals on the season. She also ranks second on the team in blocks and third in rebounds.

“She’s really hard to guard. I don’t think there’s any one way to defend her,” McGraw said of DeShields. “We’re going to have to try a lot of different things. And we don’t have great matchups because of her size. She’s just a really big guard who creates a lot of problems for the defense. She’s so talented.”

Instead, Notre Dame will rely on a rotation of players, as it has done all season. Graduate student guard Madison Cable leads the team with 14.7 points per game, but she is just one of four Irish players to average 10 or more points per game, with three others chipping in seven or more per contest.

Monday’s game will be the first of three straight at home for Notre Dame, its longest stretch at Purcell Pavilion left in the season. The Volunteers and the Irish are scheduled to tip off 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