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ND Women’s Basketball

Muffet McGraw’s confidence in Irish defense grows

| Wednesday, January 27, 2016

No. 3 Notre Dame travels to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on Thursday, a rematch of both teams’ 2015-2016 conference opener.

The Irish (19-1, 7-0 ACC) are coming off an impressive three-game home stretch, in which they defeated No. 19 Tennessee before putting up dominant defensive performances against conference opponents Syracuse and Virginia Tech, who were both held below 30 percent shooting from the field. Impressive defensive showings have become a more regular event for Notre Dame in 2016 after some defensive inconsistency early in the season. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said her team’s defensive improvement, combined with continued success in 3-point shooting, has given her team strong momentum.

Irish graduate student guard Madison Cable looks to pass the ball during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer
Irish graduate student guard Madison Cable looks to pass the ball during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18.

“I think we’re improving, so I would definitely say that we are headed in the right direction,” McGraw said. “I think we’ve got some really good momentum going because of what we’re doing defensively. We’re shooting the ball well, and that always helps. I think lately we’ve been shooting the ball well, so I think early on, we weren’t scoring as much, so I think we’re really starting to get it all together now.”

Georgia Tech (12-8, 2-5) hasn’t had such an easy start to ACC play, but Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said her opponent may be better than its conference record, pointing to a daunting early schedule that has seen the Yellow Jackets already face not only her Notre Dame team, but also No. 11 Florida State and No. 14 Louisville.

“They’re a great team,” McGraw said. “They’ve been giving everybody a great game. They’ve played the top half of the league, so their record is not really indicative of how good they are, so it’s gonna be a big game for us down there.”

The Yellow Jackets will be led by senior guard/forward and preseason second-team all-ACC selection Aaliyah Whiteside. Whiteside leads the ACC in scoring this season with 21.8 points per game, as well as leading her team in rebounds, with 7.5 per game, and assists, with 3.1 per game. Whiteside scored 17 points and added nine rebounds when she faced the Irish earlier this season. McGraw said Whiteside’s versatility presents a difficult matchup and can’t be easily contained.

“I don’t know if you can stop her,” McGraw said. “We tried a lot of different people on her, tried a couple different things, and she’s just a really good player. She’s really hard to guard. She’s got good size at the guard spot. She’s strong. She can do a lot of different things, so she continues to be a tough matchup for us.”

Irish sophomore forward Brianna Turner backs into defender during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer
Irish sophomore forward Brianna Turner backs into a defender during Notre Dame’s 74-39 win over Toledo on Nov. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

When Notre Dame met the Yellow Jackets last, at Purcell Pavilion in December, the Irish built a 22-point lead five minutes into the second half but needed a pair of late 3-pointers from graduate student guard Madison Cable to ensure an 85-76 victory after an attempted Georgia Tech comeback. McGraw said her team has greatly improved defensively since then and she expects to see a more decisive result this time around.

“It was our first game in the ACC and we had just come off Oregon State, where we really weren’t playing well after Christmas, really just not playing well defensively,” McGraw said. “I thought we had a lot of things we were working on and I think we’ve worked through them. We’re playing better defensively. [Sophomore forward Brianna Turner] obviously is back now and is playing a lot more minutes for us, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves, but it was mostly defensively some things we had to work on, and I think we have worked on them.”

The Irish and the Yellow Jackets will meet at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta on Thursday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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