ND Women’s Basketball
Irish, Tar Heels take similar paths to conference clash
Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, January 14, 2015
The No. 7 Irish and No. 12 Tar Heels have taken similar paths to this point in the season.Both enter Thursday’s 7 p.m. matchup at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with 15-2 records.
For each team, one of those losses came by a large margin in December against a ranked opponent. Notre Dame (15-2, 3-1 ACC) fell, 76-58, to No. 2 Connecticut on Dec. 6, and North Carolina (15-2, 2-1) lost, 70-55, to No. 9 Oregon State on Dec. 16.
The other losses were more surprising. On the same day, Jan. 8, unranked Miami upended the Irish, 78-63, and unranked Pittsburgh defeated the Tar Heels, 84-59.
Notre Dame started slow in that game against the Hurricanes (13-3, 3-0), and that’s something the Irish will have to fix against North Carolina, Irish coach Muffett McGraw said.
“I think it’s important to get off to a great start,” McGraw said. “We’ve struggled with that, so that’s going to be important for us.”
Notre Dame faces no small challenge in a team McGraw described as physical, especially in its rebounding game. The Tar Heels average 42.6 rebounds per game. Two players, sophomore guard Allisha Gray and sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga, average more than eight boards per game. McGraw noted that rebounding and playing more physically has been a “point of focus” for the Irish.
“I think they’re really talented, a great team,” McGraw said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us keeping them off the boards.”Gray represents a particular challenge as a 6-foot guard and North Carolina’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game. Mavunga follows with 13.8 points per game.
Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd continues to headline Notre Dame’s offensive attack. The junior guard averages 21.5 points per game this season and has posted the team-high points total in 10 of the team’s 17 games. Loyd scored 27 points in the loss against Miami.
After that tough loss, the Irish bounced back with a high-scoring home win, as did North Carolina, on Jan. 11. The Irish beat Boston College, 104-58, and North Carolina defeated Georgia Tech, 96-81.
Starting freshman forward Brianna Turner led the way with 21 points, but Notre Dame also received key bench contributions, namely 15 points from freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld and 13 points from freshman guard Mychal Johnson.
The bench was important for the Tar Heels as well against Georgia Tech. Sophomore guard Jessica Washington provided 16 points off the bench in that game.
“I think the bench is important,” McGraw said. “When we look at bench scoring, I think we’re capable. We did a really great job against BC.”
Against Miami and Boston College (8-8, 0-2), Notre Dame played without starting sophomore forward Taya Reimer, who did not travel Miami for personal reasons, although she was back with the team in street clothes against Boston College.
On Monday, McGraw said it had not been decided whether Reimer would start against North Carolina, but she had returned to practice. Reimer will travel with the team and dress, a team spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
“We’re really happy to have her back at practice,” McGraw said.Reimer has started 15 games for the Irish in her first season as a starter. She has scored 9.9 points per game and has been one of the team’s leading rebounders with 6.1 per game.
In the team’s pregame notes, the possible starting lineup is listed as follows: Turner, sophomore guard Lindsay Allen, senior guard Madison Cable, junior guard Michaela Mabrey and Loyd.
The Irish and Tar Heels met last season on Feb. 27 at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame won, 100-75, but this will be the first trip to Chapel Hill for the Irish. North Carolina went on last season to an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament, losing to Stanford.
Notre Dame and North Carolina square off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.