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ND Women’s Basketball

Injured Irish prepare for ACC matchup with Clemson

| Thursday, February 16, 2017

With the regular season winding down, No. 7 Notre Dame will look to keep its ACC regular season title hopes alive when it travels to Clemson, South Carolina, to take on the Tigers on Thursday.

Coming off a 90-69 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday, the Irish (23-3, 11-1 ACC) currently sit atop the ACC with No. 4 Florida State, who is Notre Dame’s final opponent of the regular season. But in order for that game to have title implications, the Irish will first need to beat at least two of their next three opponents, starting with the Tigers (14-12, 3-10).

Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale drives towards the hoop along the baseline during Notre Dame’s 90-69 win over Georgia Tech on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish sophomore guard Arike Ogunbowale drives towards the hoop along the baseline during Notre Dame’s 90-69 win over Georgia Tech on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.

But the Irish have another focus as well heading into Thursday’s contest: getting and keeping everyone healthy. Juniors Kathryn Westbeld and Mychal Johnson, as well as sophomore guard Ali Patberg, are all dealing with injury or illness at the time, leaving the Irish with limited options off its bench. While Irish head coach Muffet McGraw called Johnson “questionable,” she called both Westbeld and Patberg “doubtful” for the game at Clemson.

Westbeld, who played in Sunday’s win, has particularly been affected by her ankle injury, which has continued to cause her pain, so the training staff has decided to keep her out to allow her the chance to return to full health.

“It will continue to cause her pain,” McGraw said of Westbeld’s ankle injury. “It’s just — it’s not healing. She’s not 100 percent, and we want her to be 100 percent.”

With Westbeld doubtful and potentially out for more than just Thursday’s game, the Irish will turn to freshman forward Erin Boley and senior forward Kristina Nelson to take on her minutes and replace her production. McGraw said she has full confidence in both players.

“I think [Boley] is very ready for this opportunity, and I think [Nelson] is as well,” McGraw said. “So I think we’ve got some depth at that position.”

At the guard spot, Patberg’s absence — she missed Sunday’s game with the flu — has forced McGraw to ask senior guard Lindsay Allen to play extended minutes this season. And while she knows Allen can physically handle the extra time, McGraw has still made efforts to rest her in practice and hopes to get Patberg back soon so Allen will not be pushed too much during the ACC tournament.

“She’s really playing a lot of minutes for us this year,” McGraw said of Allen. “And without Ali [Patberg], it’s been really hard to take her out of the game, so it’s really important that we get Ali back so that we can rest her a little bit because, with the ACC tournament looming when you got to play back-to-back, that could really be an issue.”

Fortunately for the Irish, freshman guard Jackie Young has been able to pick up some of the slack, as she was named the ACC Rookie of the Week for her performances last week.

“I think lately her rebounding, really been strong at both ends,” McGraw said regarding Young’s play as of late. “She’s getting some big rebounds, and she’s really been — I mean, she’s aggressive going after it, but she’s really been steady and doing a lot of good things. Her shot selection has been really good, she’s shooting a little more — which I like; I want her to shoot even more. Defensively, I think she continues to get better. I’ve seen a lot of improvement with her.”

And despite all of the in-house issues McGraw and the Irish are currently dealing with, they still are well aware of the challenge the Tigers will present Thursday. Despite its record, Clemson has secured all three of its ACC wins in its last five games, which McGraw said indicates how much more dangerous they are than some might think.

“They have pretty much a whole new team from last year,” McGraw said of the Tigers. “It seems like this is a different team, so they’re getting a lot of confidence now — young team just figuring things out, so they’re a dangerous team at home.”

For the Irish, the main focus in practice has been improving their defensive fundamentals and technique, an area McGraw believes her team has struggled of late.

“We’re just continuing to work on our defense and get back to the fundamentals: containing the ball, keeping them in front of us and rotating,” McGraw said. “A lot of defensive details.”

And although a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is still theoretically in play for Notre Dame, it is not putting its efforts towards the pursuit of that goal. Rather, the Irish want to do everything they can to be healthy and poised for a postseason run, regardless of what spot they have to make that run from.

“I think we lost our chance for that,” McGraw said of a No. 1 seed. “I think we’re just trying to get to the end of the regular season right now.”

The Irish and the Tigers will tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Littlejohn Coliseum.

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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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