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ND Women’s Basketball

ND begins season without Loyd

| Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It would seem to be the same old story for Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame.

Once more, the Irish begin fall camp without last season’s best player. Once more, they have talented but raw freshmen coming in who will be expected to contribute right away. Once more, they have to answer questions about when, if ever, they will defeat rival Connecticut and claim the NCAA championship.

But at the team’s media day Monday, the head coach and her players focused less on the past and more on the present, discussing improvements several starters had made over the summer and the impact of three freshman guards crowding into the backcourt.

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Replacing Jewell Loyd

With the departure of guard Jewell Loyd, who turned pro after her junior season and was selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft last spring, the Irish will have to replace almost a quarter of their offensive production from the 2014-2015 season.

McGraw said one challenge in replacing Loyd will be finding a player who will step up in high-pressure situations and demand the basketball.

“That’s the biggest thing that we really have to look at; who’s going to take that shot, late in the shot clock, late in the game,” McGraw said. “We have a number of options, and some really good things to work on. [Junior guard] Lindsay Allen and [sophomore forward] Brianna Turner are playing really well. Those two are definitely going to have the ball in their hands a lot at the end of the game.”

Allen has started every game for the Irish in the past two seasons and steadily increased her offensive output during that time, averaging 17.75 points per game through the first four rounds of last year’s NCAA tournament. In the Final Four, however, she managed just eight points and 10 assists while turning the ball over seven times in two games.

McGraw said Allen’s two trips to the Final Four and her late surge last season means she will be expected to carry the scoring load this year, as well as lead a young backcourt.

“We’re going to want the ball in her hands because her handle has gotten even better, her shot looks good and her passing has been very good,” McGraw said. “She’s somebody we expect to have a tremendous assist-to-turnover ratio and to lead the team and score a little bit more.”

McGraw also said Allen is playing at All-American level from what she has seen in summer workouts and limited practices this fall.

Turner led the nation in field goal percentage and the Irish in rebounds her freshman season, but she also struggled in the final two games of the season, fouling out in the NCAA semifinals and struggling to contain Connecticut’s post game in the national championship.

“We are going to ask her to do a lot more,” McGraw said. “She needs to be able to make that free-throw jumper, she’s really worked on her free throws, and she’s becoming a better passer. She’s worked on that this summer.”

Two seasons ago, Notre Dame dealt with the loss of guard Skylar Diggins by spreading her offensive load across several players. While Allen and Turner are most expected to take on that role this year, both said they do not think they will fully imitate or replace Loyd.

“Jewell was a great player, we’re not going to have anyone who can just replace her,” Turner said. “So I think it’s going to be a team effort.”

Handling depth

Last season, Notre Dame had nine players appear in 30 or more games, but only one reserve, graduate student guard Madison Cable, got more than 20 minutes per game on average. This year, however, the bench will figure much more prominently in the Irish game plan, almost by necessity, McGraw said.

“It’s really going to be difficult for me to figure out how to work the pieces together,” McGraw said. “Everyone thinks that having a lot of depth is a great problem to have, but really we have nine or 10 people who could play a lot of minutes. That’s a little more difficult, to see which situation each player is going to be most effective in.”

In the post, things are not as crowded, as junior forward Taya Reimer and Turner look to have the starting spots locked up, and sophomore Kathryn Westbeld is the only returner who played significant minutes last season.

That unit is led by Reimer, who missed two games midway through last season but came back to provide a steady presence down low. She was named a tri-captain for this season and said her leadership role within the unit will continue throughout the year.

“Consistency is going to be a big thing, as well as leading by example,” Reimer said. “I need to be more vocal on the court. It’s about knowing where I am supposed to be and where I’m going to be and making sure I know where everybody else is going to be, especially in the post.”

But Notre Dame’s corps of guards will have more than enough players looking for playing time. In addition to three veterans — Cable and seniors Hannah Huffman and Michaela Mabrey — Allen, sophomore Mychal Johnson and three freshmen all could see significant time on the court.

Freshmen make early impressions

Those three freshmen — Ali Patberg, Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey — haven’t been on campus all that long, but they already have McGraw thinking about how they will fit into the team’s rotation, especially in light of Loyd’s departure.

Mabrey, the younger sister of Michaela, has been especially quick to adapt, one of the benefits of playing on the same team as her sibling, she said.

“Just showing up every day with a good attitude is really important,” Marina Mabrey said. “Wanting to learn, since you’re going to mess up a lot as a freshman, and just being able to take it and move onto the next play [is important].”

McGraw said Mabrey is more physical on the court than her sister but still is not the most hard-charging rookie on the squad. That title belongs to Ogunbowale, an undersized but strong 5-foot-8 guard.

“I think she’s going to lead the team in free-throw attempts, because she can drive the ball and get her shot up with contact. She can finish with contact,” McGraw said of Ogunbowale. “I’m really excited about her and her ability to do different things.”

Patberg is not as much of a pure scorer as her freshmen counterparts, McGraw said. Instead, she distributes from the point, and in sets with Allen, Patberg will likely take over that position while Allen shifts to the wing in search of more points, McGraw said.

Notre Dame kicks off its 2015-2016 season Nov. 7 with an exhibition against Wayne State at Purcell Pavilion.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

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