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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame prepares for test at Virginia Tech

| Thursday, February 2, 2017

No. 7 Notre Dame is on the road again Thursday, traveling to meet a Virginia Tech team that is hoping to regain its early-season form.

Virginia Tech (16-5, 3-5 ACC) had one of the best starts to the season in the country, beginning their campaign with a 15-game winning streak. That run — which featured a victory over the Tennessee squad that defeated Notre Dame — was good enough to see the Hokies climb to No. 15 in the rankings as the final remaining undefeated ACC team and one of only three undefeated teams in the nation.

However, from there Virginia Tech’s season began to slip as its schedule became more difficult. After a seven-point loss to Miami and a victory over Wake Forest, the Hokies went on to drop four consecutive games, including a 76-27 blowout against in-state rival Virginia. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said the recent Hokies struggles have come from shooting issues, which means they may return to form and pose a challenge to her team.

“They’ve not been shooting the ball so well lately, but playing at home I’d expect them to shoot it a lot better,” McGraw said.

“Playing in the ACC, every team is good. Every game is so important right now. When you have a loss in conference you have to think that every game matters. So they have to be ready, they have to be ready to be on the road, and they have to go out there and play their best game mentally.”

The Irish (20-3, 8-1 ACC), meanwhile, come into the game having won their last four games after losing hold of a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at Tennessee. After being upset at North Carolina State in their ACC opener, McGraw’s team have won their last eight conference games to hold a tie for first in the ACC with Florida State.

In their last outing, the Irish scored 82 points against the Cavaliers team that held the Hokies to just 27, but gave up 74 points on defense because of what McGraw described as a lack of defensive effort. McGraw said defense is the area her team has focused on the most in preparing for Virginia Tech.

“We’re trying to get them to get up, pick up the ball sooner and try to get out into passing lanes a little more,” McGraw said. “I think we’re laying back a little too much, so we’re working on being more aggressive on defense.

“I think it’s going to take some time to form habits, I think that’s what’s important. So defensively, we just need to be a lot more aggressive, we need to work on our help rotation.”

Junior forward Kathryn Westbeld missed the last two Irish road games against Boston College and North Carolina before starting against Duke and then contributing six minutes off the bench against Virginia. McGraw said whether Westbeld will play against the Hokies, and if so how much, is still undecided, but she added she has no concerns about depth if the starter is ruled out.

“We have a really good bench,” McGraw said. “If we start [freshman forward] Erin [Boley] we still have [sophomore guard] Ali [Patberg] coming off the bench, [freshman guard] Jackie [Young] coming off the bench and [junior forward Kristina Nelson]. So we still have three really good players coming off the bench, they just have to be ready.”

The Hokies boast four players who average over 10 points per game: sophomore guard Chanette Hicks, redshirt sophomore forward Regan Magarity, senior forward Sydney Cook and senior guard Samantha Hill. Hicks, the team’s leading scorer, is also third in the ACC in assists and first in steals, while Magarity and Cook are second and third in the conference in rebounds, respectively.

The Irish and the Hokies tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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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