ND Women’s Basketball
ND stays wary of Cavaliers
Greg Hadley | Thursday, February 5, 2015
Muffet McGraw hasn’t forgotten the last time No. 4 Notre Dame played Virginia. She knows better than to take tonight’s home matchup against the Cavaliers lightly.
In 2014, the Irish traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, and barely escaped with their perfect record intact, scraping by with a 79-72 win, their second-narrowest victory of the year.
In that game, three of Notre Dame’s top four scorers were seniors. Now, with a remodeled, younger lineup, McGraw no longer faces the pressure of an undefeated season, but the Irish coach still plans on using last season’s game to guide her approach for Thursday.
“That was our closest game last year,” McGraw said. “I mean, we won by single digits … so that’s a team that’s really really good.”
Like the Irish (21-2, 7-1 ACC), the Cavaliers (15-7, 5-4) lost three starters to graduation at the end of last year, but they returned two of their top scorers in senior center Sarah Imovbioh and junior guard Faith Randolph.
“Virginia’s got two really good players,” McGraw said. “A post player [Imovbioh] and Faith Randolph on the perimeter, [are] playing great basketball right now. So they have a great inside-outside game.”
This season Imovbioh is averaging 13.6 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per contest, which leads the ACC. McGraw said defending Imovbioh will be similar to the job the Irish had defending Wake Forest senior forward Dearica Hamby on Sunday. Hamby collected 23 points and 10 rebounds, but Notre Dame defeated the Demon Deacons, 92-63.
“We can look at Hamby’s shots,” McGraw said when asked how the Irish will contain Virginia inside. “So we’ll be able to look at some of the things we did [against Wake Forest] and talk about how we’re going to defend them.”
On the outside, the Cavaliers are one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country, hitting 36.4 percent from long range, just off Notre Dame’s mark (38.1 percent). Randolph has led the Virginia barrage, attempting 119 from beyond the arc, but has had plenty of help from freshman guard Mikayla Venson, who has put up 111 attempts of her own.
Venson ranks second on the team in assists and third in scoring and has been the driving force behind Virginia’s offense in its past two wins. She was named ACC freshman of the week Monday after averaging 17 points per game and shooting 80 percent from 3-point territory over the two contests.
The ACC honor was the first of Venson’s career. Against Notre Dame, she will face freshman forward Brianna Turner, who already has collected five weekly accolades. Turner’s last award came back on Jan. 19, but since then, the forward has racked up valuable minutes that will prove crucial come the postseason, McGraw said.
“Every experience she gets is going to help us down the road,” McGraw said after the win over Wake Forest, in which Turner played only 22 minutes. “I thought it was great for [senior forward] Markisha [Wright] to be able to come in and give us great minutes and take some pressure off [Turner] so she knows that she’s got other people that can help her.”
McGraw has said several times this season that she is looking for greater senior leadership to guide a rotation that features mostly underclassmen, especially in the midst of a trying ACC schedule.
“The older kids, in practice, try to bring energy and stay focused,” Irish senior guard Madison Cable said. “It starts at practice. We’ve been talking about practice recently … and we really need to come and be ready and have that translate over to the game. I think we’re in a really good spot right now, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Notre Dame hosts Virginia tonight at Purcell Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.