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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame returns home for ACC contest with Duke

| Thursday, January 26, 2017

Two of the top teams in the ACC will square off Thursday night when Notre Dame hosts Duke in a top-15 showdown at Purcell Pavilion.

“It’s a big game, I think for both of us,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said of Thursday’s contest. “I think we played a lot better against North Carolina; I feel a lot better about where we are, where we’re heading. … [We] just accomplished a lot of our goals in that game, so I feel really good about heading into this one.”

The eighth-ranked Irish (18-3, 6-1 ACC) and 14th-ranked Blue Devils (17-3, 5-2) currently sit in the second and third positions, respectively, in the ACC standings. With a fifth consecutive ACC championship in mind, McGraw acknowledged that this game, like every other ACC game from here on out, is a must-win.

“Yeah, it’s really important for us to take every game. It’s really important,” McGraw said. “You know, we slipped up at N.C. State, and we’ve really got to be ready for every game.”

But McGraw admits that this one will be harder than most.

“[Duke is] a great team. They’re just a difficult matchup because they’re very athletic defensively, and they can score in a lot of different ways,” McGraw said. “They play great defense. I think their zone is really good. They’ve got some bigs coming in off the bench. They’ve got depth.”

The core of that “great” team is junior guard Lexie Brown and redshirt junior guard Rebecca Greenwell, who average 17.5 and 16.7 points per game, respectively, for the Blue Devils. Brown, who played her two first seasons at Maryland before transferring to Duke two years ago and sitting out last season, has reinvigorated Duke’s team, according to McGraw.

“I think Lexie Brown changed the culture of their team,” she said. “She’s really made them a very different team than they were last year. I think she’s just a tremendous point guard. She does so many great things. They’ve got good inside presence. [Sophomore guard Kyra] Lambert’s a tough matchup for us. Greenwell and Brown shoot the ball really well, but Brown — really, she’s the key to their team.”

With junior forward Kathryn Westbeld still a game-time decision, the Irish expect to play a lot more four-guard packages against the Blue Devils. One backcourt combination the Irish have found effective in those situations is that of senior guard Lindsay Allen and sophomore guard Ali Patberg, who has played 20 minutes in each of the last two games.

Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld dribbles up the court during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.Allison Culver | The Observer

Irish junior forward Kathryn Westbeld dribbles up the court during Notre Dame’s 72-61 loss to UConn on Dec. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.

“Yeah, I didn’t really expect to play them together as much as I have been, but the defensive intensity that they bring, the intelligence that they bring — I think Ali gives us so much of what Lindsay already gives us, that it’s great to have two people out there that can run the offense, get us into stuff, know which way to look into the post and can defend,” McGraw said.

One thing immediately in Notre Dame’s favor is its return home. After playing 10 of their last 12 games on the road, the Irish will now play four of its next five at home, including Thursday’s 7 p.m. tipoff. Being back at Purcell Pavilion will be a huge lift to a road-weary Irish squad, McGraw said.

“It’s great to be home,” McGraw said. “We’re excited for our fans. We need them. … It’s been a brutal stretch, but we really managed to get through it, and now we just need to really start moving forward. But I think the fans are really gonna help us.

“ … [The players are] excited about it, to just be back in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion. I think we’ll shoot the ball a lot better, just to have that comfort of being in our own bed and getting a little more rest.”

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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