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ND Women’s Basketball: Team tests winning streak at Michigan

Brian Hartnett | Thursday, December 12, 2013

No. 4 Notre Dame will look to extend its season-opening win streak to nine games when it travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., to face Michigan on Saturday. But Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she believes her team is still playing far from its potential.

“I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet,” McGraw said. “I think we can get a lot better at both ends of the floor, and we’re a team that can score a lot of points.”

The Irish (8-0) put together a complete effort in a 90-48 victory over UCLA on Saturday, as they shot 56.3 percent from the field and limited the Bruins to just 28.0 percent shooting from the floor. The Irish received 46 points off the bench Saturday, including a career-high 21 points from junior guard Madison Cable.

McGraw said bench play would be important for the team as it moves closer to ACC play. Notre Dame sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey has averaged 10.0 points per game off the bench, while Cable has averaged 6.6 points per game and has shot 64.3 percent from 3-point range.

“[Three-point shooting] is really important for us, and I think [Cable] coming out and having a big game was huge for her confidence and just for us down the road to be able to count on her to score some points,” McGraw said. “Certainly, her 3-point shot is one of the best on the team. We’re looking for production off the bench, and we certainly got it in the UCLA game.”

While the Irish will look for increased bench production, they will also seek to win the battle on the boards against Michigan (7-3). The Wolverines are tied for first among Big Ten teams with a rebounding margin of plus-9.6 per game through games played Sunday. The Irish are first nationally with a rebounding margin of plus-18.3 boards per game and outrebounded the Bruins 48-35.

“[Rebounding is] critical every game, and we’ve done a good job rebounding,” McGraw said. “I wasn’t quite happy with it in the UCLA game, but we definitely need to concentrate and focus on keeping them off the boards, because they are a very good rebounding team.”

Michigan has also found balance on offense, as it is second in the Big Ten with 18.8 assists per game. The Wolverines have had five games this season with at least 20 assists.

Although Michigan only returned one starter from last season, the Wolverines currently have four starters averaging double-figure points. Junior guard Shannon Smith leads the team with 17.3 points per game, while junior guard Nicole Elmblad, the team’s lone returning starter, is first on the Wolverines with 8.9 rebounds per game.

McGraw said Michigan’s new starting lineup makes it difficult to game plan for the Wolverines.

“I think the thing with Michigan is they’ve got a lot of new players this year,” she said. “They graduated some kids, so they’re still looking at different things. They really have played very well this year; I think they’ve surprised some people already.”

Notre Dame will make just its fourth road trip of the season when it travels to the Crisler Center on Saturday. McGraw said the team’s most recent road game, a 77-67 win over then-No. 10 Penn State on Dec. 4, has given its younger players confidence in their ability to play away from home.

“I think the veterans always have been [confident],” she said. “I think it’s the freshmen [who need confidence], and I was really pleased [freshman forward] Taya Reimer played very well on the road at Penn State. I think it’s a learning experience; every game for the freshmen is something new, so we hope they continue to play as well as they have so far.”

Notre Dame will face Michigan on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]