ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame set for first ranked matchup of season
Daniel O'Boyle | Friday, November 17, 2017
In the second of a seven-game road trip, No. 6 Notre Dame will take on its first ranked opponent of the season: No. 18 Oregon State.
The Irish (2-0) come into the game after beating Western Kentucky 78-65 earlier this week. Although a 13-point victory over Conference-USA opposition would typically be below the standards Muffet McGraw is accustomed to at Notre Dame, she said the Hilltoppers (1-2) were a strong team and was impressed with her own team’s defensive effort against them. The Hilltoppers had posted a 27-7 record last year and a 14-1 record at home before starting the 2017–18 season strong with a victory over No. 23 Missouri and a close loss to an Iowa team receiving votes in the AP Poll.
“I actually thought it was a great game for us,” McGraw said. “I expected a tough game. They were coming off of a win against a tough team, they’re getting votes in the polls and this was their opportunity to play a good team and make a statement. I think they had their biggest crowd ever in their arena, we knew it would be difficult, we knew it would be a close game without and it was, I thought that defensively we did some good things, we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well but we still found a way to win.”
The Beavers (2-0) have experienced an impressive turnaround this decade under head coach Scott Rueck. After a 9-21 season in his first year in charge with only two Pac-12 wins, the team has improved to one of the top programs in the Pac-12, with a Final Four appearance in 2016 and a 31-win season last year. This improvement has come mostly thanks to the team’s defense becoming one of the best in the nation, giving up an average of only 54.4 points per game last season with an field goal percentage of just .345 and a three-point percentage of .282 while recording 7.4 steals per game. McGraw said the Beavers’ defense will be a serious challenge for her team.
“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” McGraw said. “They traditionally rank in the top-10 in field goal percentage defense as well as points given up, so they’re a team that is very stingy at the defensive end. We’ve played them twice before and we’ve had trouble scoring on them, so I think it will be a real challenge for our offense.”
The Beavers are a team known for their size in the post, led by senior 6-foot-5-inch center Marie Gulich. Gulich averages a team-leading 17.5 points per game this season, as well as posting 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game. Off the bench, the Beavers can go even bigger inside, with 6-8-inch center Joanna Grymek having recorded four blocks this season, while across the rest of the court, Roeck’s team brings more size, with sophomore guard Mikayla Pivec the team’s shortest starter at 5-foot-10. The Irish may have lost two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year Brianna Turner to injury before the season, but with junior forward Jessica Shepard starting and bench players including freshman center Mikayla Vaughn and graduate student forward Kristina Nelson, McGraw said she believes her team has enough depth in the post to deal with Gulich and the remainder of the Beavers.
“Gulich is a tough player to defend,” McGraw said. “She’s just really talented and the offense runs through her a lot. But I don’t think our size will be a problem matching them. We have size off the bench, players who can some in and we can certainly see how the game is going. If we need to go big, we can certainly do that. But it will still be a pretty tough matchup for us.”
After the game, Notre Dame will have to travel over 2,500 miles to Estero, Florida, for the Gulf Coast Showcase, a three-game tournament where the Irish could meet defending national champions South Carolina in the final. The games form part of a seven-game road trip that takes the Irish all across the nation before finishing with No. 1 Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. McGraw said the stretch will be difficult but believes her team can learn and improve from the challenge.
“This is the early stages of a seven-game road stretch,” McGraw said. “We’ve got a lot of ranked teams coming up, we’re really going to be tested and hopefully we can just keep getting better every game”
The Irish will meet the Beavers on Sunday at Gill Coliseum in Eugene, Oregon. Tip-off is at 2 p.m.