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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame readies for FSU, final stretch

| Monday, February 22, 2016

Only three games remain in the regular season for No. 2 Notre Dame, but they will come in a flurry over the coming week, as the Irish try to lock up their third straight ACC regular season title.

That stretch begins Monday, as the Irish (25-1, 13-0) travel to Tallahassee, Florida, to face No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State (21-5, 11-2) is Notre Dame’s ninth and final ranked opponent in the regular season.

Irish freshman guard Marina Mabrey looks for a passing lane during Notre Dame’s 90-69 victory over Miami on Feb. 13 at Purcell Pavilion. Mabrey scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in the game, and for the season the freshman is averaging 11.4 points per game.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish freshman guard Marina Mabrey looks for a passing lane during Notre Dame’s 90-69 victory over Miami on Feb. 13 at Purcell Pavilion. Mabrey scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in the game, and for the season the freshman is averaging 11.4 points per game.

“They’re one of the best in the conference, one of the best in the country,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said of the Seminoles. “They’ve got a big margin, something like [14.2] on the boards. They’re an aggressive team, they’re talented.”

That rebounding margin ranks fourth in the country, as does their average scoring margin (20.4) — one spot ahead of Notre Dame. They are led by senior center Adut Bulgak and sophomore forward Shakayla Thomas, who both average more than 13 points and five rebounds per game.

McGraw highlighted Thomas as a particularly tough matchup.

“She’s just so hard to guard, especially coming off the bench like she does,” McGraw said.

The Seminoles are coming off just their second conference loss of the year, as they fell behind early against No. 23 Syracuse and never recovered, falling 83-73. But before that contest, Florida State had won 11 consecutive conference games, a program record, and the team has yet to lose at home this season, posting a perfect 14-0 record.

“They’re coming off a loss … so they will be really ready for us,” McGraw said. “Playing on the road, in front of a big crowd … we need to be sure we’re ready as well.”

Notre Dame, on the other hand, is coming off a victory, having beaten Wake Forest on the road this past Thursday. The Irish never trailed in the 86-52 win, which clinched a double bye in the conference tournament for the squad.

The Irish defense was in full force against the Demon Deacons, holding them to more than eight points below Notre Dame’s average points allowed (60.3). Wake Forest’s 52-point output also marked the 13th straight Irish opponent to score fewer than 70 points and the sixth in the past seven games to score 61 or fewer.

“We played some man, we played some zone [against Wake Forest],” McGraw said. “We got out on the shooters — the only 3s they got came at the end of the game when we had subbed people. I was just really pleased.”

Long known for high-octane offense, McGraw’s team has grown on the defensive end throughout the season. The Irish rank 103rd in the nation in scoring defense, but they top the ACC, allowing the fewest points per game in conference play.

That defensive prowess will be important against Florida State, who sits right behind Notre Dame in points scored per conference game and field goal percentage and ahead of the Irish in rebounding and assists.

“They’re ahead of us is a lot of categories,” McGraw said. “It should be a good game, a good offensive game.”

Sophomore forward Brianna Turner will likely be tasked with containing Bulgak and Thomas as she comes off one of her best games of the season. Turner put up 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks against Wake Forest for her second double-double of the year.

She is also the main reason Notre Dame ranks 38th in the nation in blocked shots per game. Her 3.45 blocks per game ranks seventh in the NCAA, though she will have to match up against a frontcourt in which no player shoots below 49.4 percent from the field.

The Irish and the Seminoles face off at 7 p.m. Monday at Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida.

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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