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ND Women’s Basketball

McGraw, Irish host No. 9 Louisville at Purcell

| Monday, February 6, 2017

When No. 9 Louisville visits No. 7 Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion on Monday night, the Cardinals will bring not only skilled guards and top forwards but also an opportunity for the Irish to take away a crucial ACC win and get their regular season on track as they eye the postseason.

Notre Dame (21-3, 9-1 ACC) has won five games in a row since a disappointing loss to Tennessee on Jan. 16, and Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she’s seen her team improve in areas they were struggling in that span, particularly on defense.

Irish junior forward Brianna Turner shoots a jumper in Notre Dame’s 82-74 victory over Virginia on Jan. 29 at Purcell Pavilion. Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish junior forward Brianna Turner shoots a jumper in Notre Dame’s 82-74 victory over Virginia on Jan. 29 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish suffered an ACC loss North Carolina State, now ranked No. 19, on Dec. 29. The squad’s first loss of the season was to another ranked team — No. 1 Connecticut.

That makes the top-10 matchup with Louisville (20-5, 7-3 ACC) even more important, with both teams vying for prime spots in the ACC tournament next month and the NCAA tourney after that.

“This is a huge game,” McGraw said. “I think a huge game for both teams, certainly one that we’ve really got to be ready [for]. They’ve got so many great weapons, so many terrific guards, great post play. They’re an excellent team, and it’s going to be a battle.”

The Irish are no strangers to elite opposition, and McGraw had no misconceptions about the challenge her team faces in the Cardinals, whose talented roster includes all-ACC junior forward Myisha Hines-Allen.

“You say, ‘we’ve got to give up something.’ We can’t take away everything [that Louisville does well],” McGraw said. “The way they shoot the ball, the way they drive the ball, they play hard. Everything they do makes it a difficult matchup for us.”

Junior forward Kathryn Westbeld, who has been vital to the past three Irish wins despite a sore ankle severely restricting her minutes, agreed that it will be a tough game but said the team was looking forward to it.

“A big top-10 matchup is really good for us, especially coming off a few good wins,” Westbeld said. “We’re really excited and energy is pretty high right now, so it should be a good game.”

The team’s struggles so far this season — compared to the program’s last couple years, at least — can also help fuel a late-season surge, Westbeld said.

“I think it just kind of keeps us more focused,” she said. “We can’t lose focus at all, we have to keep our heads on the next game. I think we’ll be alright.

“ … Obviously we’re at home, the crowd is going to be a huge part of it [on Monday], but we have to just stay within ourselves and do what the game plan is.”

McGraw expressed a similar sentiment, saying she anticipated an electric crowd.

However, she also warned that Notre Dame wouldn’t be getting ahead of itself as the postseason, guaranteed to pit the Irish against many opponents as talented as Louisville, draws near.

“There’s great parity in the league this year,” McGraw said. “This was a year when everybody thought anybody could win it, and it certainly looks that way right now. I think for us, we’ve just got to focus on one game at a time.”

Notre Dame and Louisville tip off at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion on Monday.

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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