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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame puts perfect record to test versus Iowa

| Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No. 1 Notre Dame will travel to Iowa to play its first true road test of the year Wednesday in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The Irish (6-0) have played one game away from the confines of Purcell Pavilion this season, but it was a neutral-site adventure in Houston against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 22. This time, however, they travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on the Hawkeyes (5-2).

“Iowa is a very young team,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “They have some really good post players. They have a senior who’s been very steady for them — I think she’s probably their most experienced player and probably their best player. But their young players are really talented, so I think this is a game where we’ve got to be ready to take their best shot. First true road game, so it should be interesting.”

Irish junior forward Brianna Turner goes up for a layup during Notre Dame's 129-50 victory over Roberts Wesleyan on Nov. 4 at Purcell Pavilion. Peter St. John | The Observer
Irish junior forward Brianna Turner goes up for a layup during Notre Dame’s 129-50 victory over Roberts Wesleyan on Nov. 4 at Purcell Pavilion.

The “steady” senior McGraw was referring to was guard Ally Disterhoft, who is the leading scorer for the Hawkeyes at 18.1 points per game this season. She and sophomore forward Megan Gustafson — who is averaging 17.6 points per game over Iowa’s first seven games — have paced the Hawkeyes on the offensive end of the floor this season. Given the success the inside-out duo has found for Iowa this season, they could pose problems for the Irish. McGraw noted the area the Irish have struggled in the most this season so far is slowing down opposing offenses, which has kept them from increasing the pace of play as they would like at times.

“I think teams slow us down with their offense, and it’s hard for us to combat that,” McGraw said. “Defensively, we need to try to press them a little bit more [and] try to force the tempo a little bit more. They can’t really stop our transition game, but they did slow the ball down and use the shot clock on offense a little bit more than I would like.”

Another area the Irish hope to improve is in their low-post offense, which begins first and foremost with Brianna Turner. The junior forward has seen increased attention from opposing defenses this season, as teams have both played her more physically and been quick to send help to force the ball out of her hands. McGraw said the Irish will look to get more creative to get her better looks offensively.

“She’s shown tremendous toughness,” McGraw said of Turner. “I’m really pleased with the way she’s continued to be aggressive while people are being so physical with her — not just her [matchup] but everybody out there. She’s being double-teamed and triple-teamed, so there’s always somebody whenever she turns around. We’re working on some things to help her get free, some different sets that can get her the ball and different spots where she can be a little more effective.”

McGraw added that having had since Sunday to prepare for Iowa has allowed her team to prepare for the challenges the Hawkeyes present on both ends of the court and implement changes of their own, including the sets designed for Turner.

“I’m just really glad we have two days of practice for this game,” McGraw said. “This is a difficult team to prepare for, so we had some things [Monday] that we definitely need to work on, and we really could use a little bit more time, but to have two practices and a shootaround, I think, gives us a good amount of time to work on things.”

One player Notre Dame will continue to be without is Ali Patberg. The sophomore guard missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and she has only been able to play in two games this year due to her being recently diagnosed with walking pneumonia. McGraw said Patberg will be out for another week or two, and while she has handled the adversity well, her absence has been felt due to the difficultly in designing lineups without being able to plug her in.

“It’s really frustrating for everyone because we really want to try to give [senior guard] Lindsay [Allen] a rest, so now we’re trying to figure out if [junior guard] Mychal Johnson or [sophomore guard] Marina [Mabrey] can run the team,” McGraw said. “So they’re having to be thrown into a situation they weren’t quite ready for. We didn’t think we were going to need them to do that this year, so it’s really in our preparation — we have so many different lineups we have to look at now.”

Regardless, McGraw said she does think the Irish are in a good position at this point in the season, and she expects them to continue to move in the right direction with Wednesday’s contest.

“I think we’re in a really good place right now,” McGraw said. “I like where we are. I like how we finished the TCU game. We faced adversity in Houston and handled that pretty well. Our first true road game will be a pretty good test for us, but I think one we’re ready for.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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