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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish play host to hot Wolfpack squad

| Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Irish return to Purcell Pavilion hoping to find their offensive rhythm again, as No. 3 Notre Dame hosts North Carolina State on Thursday night.

NC State (16-6, 7-2 ACC) comes into the game with an impressive string of results in 2016 after a slow December. The Wolfpack have won seven of their eight games in the new year, falling only to No. 13 Louisville, 92-90, in overtime and most recently dispatching in-state rival North Carolina by a score of 78-49. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said NC State’s recent performances have shown it could pose a serious challenge to her team.

“They’re playing really well,” McGraw said. “They’ve got great guard play and very good 3-point shooting. They’re an athletic team, they can get up and guard, and they’re really on a roll. I think they’re the surprise team in the ACC this year.

“They’re off to a really great start in league play.”

Notre Dame (21-1, 9-0) will play at Purcell Pavilion for the first time in 11 days after trips to Georgia Tech and Duke both turned out to be closer contests than expected. After impressing on offense for most of the season, Notre Dame struggled to score in each of the two road games. The Irish scored only 54 points in beating Georgia Tech on Jan. 28 and 68 in their close contest with Duke on Monday.

While the Irish still have the best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation, that percentage has declined in the past week. After making over 45 percent of their shots from 3-point range before traveling to Atlanta, the Irish made only eight of their 35 (22.8 percent) combined 3-point attempts in those two games. McGraw said she hoped to more effectively utilize the inside game on offense and sophomore forward Brianna Turner in particular.

“I think that offensively we need to work on getting into our rhythm,” McGraw said. “We need to execute a little bit better. I think we’ll shoot better just because we’re playing at home, but I would also like to see us getting inside more. We’re not getting [Turner] enough touches.”

Sophomore forward Brianna Turner looks to make a play during a 79-66 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.Grace Tourville | The Observer

Sophomore forward Brianna Turner looks to make a play during a 79-66 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

McGraw said that, given Turner’s lack of offensive opportunities at Duke, getting the ball to the preseason ACC Player of the Year has been a particular focus point in practice.

“That is an emphasis for sure,” she said. “It’s an emphasis most days, but right now, coming off of a game where she only got five shots, it’s a much bigger emphasis.”

NC State’s offense, in contrast, has been at its most effective in recent weeks. Junior guard Dominique Wilson has been a key part of her team’s offensive improvement, scoring at least 19 points in each of her last seven games, including 31 in the overtime contest with Louisville. McGraw said the Wolfpack’s shooting ability and athletic guard play will make them a particularly difficult opponent.

“They’re just shooting the ball really well,” McGraw said. “It’s hard to play zone against them; they have guards who are quick, they can drive the ball, and they can shoot it, so they’re a tough matchup for us.”

Despite the recent play of the Wolfpack, McGraw said she was still confident in her players, provided they execute.

“I think we could really do well if we set good screens, execute screens better, work it around a little bit more instead of being content to always just take the first quick shot and get running, because we really like transition,” McGraw said.

The Irish and the Wolfpack meet Thursday at Purcell Pavilion. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel