ND Women’s Basketball
Irish dive back into ACC play against Orange
Benjamin Padanilam | Thursday, January 21, 2016
Following a win over No. 18 Tennessee on Monday, No. 3 Notre Dame returns to conference play as it welcomes Syracuse to Purcell Pavilion on Thursday night.
The Irish (17-1, 5-0 ACC) got everyone involved on offense in the win over the Volunteers (11-6, 2-2 SEC), as six players scored in double figures. Following the performance, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she believes the team is beginning to come together on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“I think we’re starting to gel,” McGraw said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction. I thought we played really well at Virginia and against North Carolina. We played really well in the third quarter [against Tennessee] — I thought we had some really good stretches against Tennessee — so I think we can really see what we can be, and it’s fun to watch.”
As the Irish return to the ACC slate, they look to keep that momentum rolling against the Orange (14-4, 4-1 ACC). The Orange have put together a strong season but have struggled against ranked opponents. They are 0-3 against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25, having lost to No. 5 Maryland, No. 8 Arizona State and Tennessee.
Despite that, the Orange are still a very difficult matchup on paper for the Irish. In particular, the Orange defense combines press and zone defense to force turnovers at a high rate, as they have gotten opponents to give up the basketball more than 25 times a game.
“They have got some great players — [senior guard] Brianna Butler [and redshirt junior guard] Brittney Sykes are two of the best that have come through and really built the program,” McGraw said. “I think [Orange head coach Quentin Hillsman] has done a good job in who he’s recruited and how they’re playing. They play to their strengths, and they play well defensively, and I think that they’re going to continue to get better.”
On offense, Butler has been one of the driving forces for the Orange. She currently leads the nation in three-point attempts and is second in conversions, which could pose a problem for the Irish.
“She’s a tough matchup for us,” McGraw said. “I think we really have to know where she is all the time. It’s a kind of game where, if you’re in the zone, you have to know if she’s on your side of the floor. It’s going to take a lot of awareness from the team. Transition is going to be important, and just trying to find her as soon as the ball goes up.”
In order to come away with a victory, the Irish will need to play a complete game and continue to improve in their rebounding efforts, McGraw said.
“Every game is critical,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to win every game with a really good plan. We’ve got to be prepared, and we have to play our game. We can’t have any let up in intensity on the defensive end, which is where we’ve been improving the most.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball well. I think that’s important if [the Orange] play zone, and then we’ve got to handle the press. They are the two big keys. Rebounding is always a factor for us. That is something that we’re just not that good at right now and we need to get better at.”
McGraw said sophomore forward Kathryn Westbeld will be an important player for the Irish on Thursday, as the team will lean on her to make smart decisions in the high post and facilitate offense against the zone.
“I think [Kathryn’s] a big factor for us because she has the ball a lot at the high post, so she’s got to make a lot of decisions, and she’s making really good decisions right now. She finally got out to the 3-point line and made a shot [against Tennessee], which is something she’s been working on all year long, so I was happy to see her do that.”
Additionally, the Irish will be counting on freshmen guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey to continue to be aggressive and provide an offensive spark off the bench, McGraw said.
“Our bench, with Arike and Marina coming in, they’re just instant offense,” McGraw said. “They can come in, and it doesn’t matter. You can’t take away everyone, so they have to pick and choose, and Marina has been benefitting from the defense that [graduate student guard Madison Cable] is seeing.
“Fearless is what I like to say, because they don’t care who we’re playing, they don’t care about anything. They’re gonna take the ball to the basket, they’re gonna get their shots, and they’re gonna really make things happen on offense.”
The Irish and the Orange are set to tip at Purcell Pavilion on Thursday at 7 p.m.