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ND Women’s Basketball

Opposing paths lead ND, Clemson into conference tilt

| Thursday, February 25, 2016

No. 2 Notre Dame has a chance to clinch the top seed in the ACC tournament for the third consecutive year when the Irish host Clemson tonight.

The game pits the conference-leading Irish (26-1, 14-0), currently undefeated in the ACC, against the Tigers (4-23, 0-14), who are winless in conference play. In fact, since early January 2015, when Notre Dame lost to Miami and Clemson defeated Virginia Tech in overtime, the Irish have not lost to any ACC opponents, while the Tigers have not beaten any. Including the postseason, Notre Dame’s ACC winning streak stands at 31 games and Clemson’s ACC losing streak at 30.

After facing three ranked teams — No. 10 Louisville, No. 17 Miami and No. 12 Florida State — in their last four games, the Irish will certainly have an easier matchup against a team dwelling at the bottom of the conference. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, however, said she is confident her team will remain focused against a weaker opponent.

Irish sophomore forward Brianna Turner sizes up a defender in Notre Dame’s 90-69 win over Miami on Feb. 14 at Purcell Pavilion.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish sophomore forward Brianna Turner sizes up a defender in Notre Dame’s 90-69 win over Miami on Feb. 14 at Purcell Pavilion.

“We’ve got our eye on the title, and that’s really important to us,” McGraw said. “So we know we can’t let up, we’ve got to be ready, and we’ve got pretty high goals. This is a really important game for us.”

With the Irish entering the game as heavy favorites, McGraw said it will be important to dictate the tempo and not allow the Tigers to slow the game down.

“Two years ago, they really slowed us down,” McGraw said. “And they’re probably going to run their stuff on offense a little more, so we’ve got to be ready for that and we’ve got to set the tempo. That’s going to be a goal.”

McGraw also said the athleticism of the Tigers could make things difficult for her team.

“They’re really athletic, and they really go to the basket well,” McGraw said. “We’ve had trouble containing the ball this year, and that’s going to be a challenge for us because they’re really fast and we need to be able to do a better job in our man-to-man with containing the ball.”

With a win, the Irish would be guaranteed at least a share of the ACC regular season title with Louisville, and because of their victory at Louisville earlier this month, they would also clinch the number one seed for the conference tournament. The Cardinals face Miami (Fla.) tonight, and the Irish have the opportunity to claim the regular season title outright if they win and the Louisville loses. Notre Dame has won both the regular season title and the conference tournament as the number one seed in each of its two previous years in the ACC.

“I think that it was our goal at the beginning of the year, so we’re very focused on it. It’s an important goal,” McGraw said.

McGraw added that, considering the schedule her team has had to face, she is impressed the Irish now have a chance to take the regular season title with a game to spare.

“When I looked at the ACC schedule, and when I looked at the ACC preseason rankings, and I saw Louisville, Florida State and Duke at two, three and four, knowing that we would have to go on the road to play all those teams, I knew we had a tough schedule,” McGraw said. “I thought it was the toughest schedule of anyone, and I was really concerned about February. I thought February was going to be really difficult for us. Then when you throw in Tennessee in January, and the schedule just looked really really hard, and it’s number one RPI, so it definitely was the toughest, that’s not just me.

“But I don’t think I could have looked and thought we’d be where we are right now. I think we’re ahead of schedule. We’ve overachieved to get here, and I think we’ve really really played well and kept finding ways to overachieve on days where things weren’t really going our way. So this is a team that’s handled adversity really really well.”

Sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld, who injured her ankle against Florida State, will not be available for the Irish against the Tigers.

The game will begin at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

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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