ND Women’s Basketball
Despite injuries, Irish primed to finish road trip at UConn
Elizabeth Greason | Saturday, December 2, 2017
The No. 3 Irish are attempting to stay focused on their quickly approaching marquee matchup with No. 1 UConn, despite the devastating news the team announced Thursday: Freshman center Mikayla Vaughn will be the third Irish player out for the season with a torn ACL after a non-contact incident during Tuesday’s practice.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said the loss is major one for Notre Dame (7-0), whose roster has now been depleted to eight scholarship athletes, having lost senior forward Brianna Turner and senior guard Mychal Johnson for the season as well.
“It’s so hard to understand how this keeps happening and I think dealing with it is probably secondary,” McGraw said. “[Vaughn] gave us such a great lift off the bench because she was such an energy player. She was really playing well and contributing a lot. We were really looking at her for a lot of things defensively. She can score around the basket, she can do so many things that we needed her to do. So, it’s a tough loss all the way around.”
Vaughn had been averaging 13.2 minutes per game with eight points and 4.3 rebounds. Her 62.2 shooting percentage from the field put her at fourth in the ACC.
Senior forward Kathryn Westbeld noted the team will take a hit without Vaughn because she had made an immediate impact on the team as a freshman.
“It’s honestly just heartbreaking just to see another one of my teammates go through such a long-lasting injury,” Westbeld said. “She was going to be real impact for us. She was, she started off great. She catches onto things really good. She was honestly one of our loudest, most vocal people on the court, so that’s really going to hurt us but, just with her positive energy, I think she’s really going to keep it up on the bench and help us out any way she can.”
McGraw said the injury has taken a toll on the team mentally, as Vaughn’s is the third season-ending injury Notre Dame has witnessed in the span of six months, but she fully expects the Irish to rebound and handle this adversity as well as they have the rest of the season.
“I actually turned to talk to someone, so I didn’t see it happen. So, when I turned around and saw her on the ground, without screaming or anything, I was unprepared for the devastation of the injury,” McGraw said. “It’s hard to continue practice when the air gets sucked out of the gym. Your first reaction is just to stop practice and make sure you have everybody mentally prepared, but we went on. And we have a lot to overcome. And this team had really handled adversity well, so I see no reason why they won’t continue to do well.”
With its limited depth, Notre Dame will have to adjust its gameplan for the rest of the season, both during practices and in games.
“It changes things, first of all we don’t have any guards [to spare], so it changes the situation depending on what we’re facing defensively,” McGraw said. “And I think it’s just tough to practice that way. Right now we have guy practice players, but over the break we won’t have them. So there will be times during final exam week we won’t have them. So it will be tough just to get through practice. So, we’ve got to figure out a way to get it done. And we will.”
However, with arguably their biggest matchup of the season coming up Sunday as the Irish finish their seven-game road trip in Storrs, Connecticut, to take on the top-ranked Huskies (6-0), the Irish are trying to put Vaughn’s injury behind them and focus on finishing the road trip undefeated.
“I don’t think about it. We have to still move on,” junior guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “[Turner, Johnson and Vaughn] were big parts of our team, but we still have games to play so we have to move on from it.”
McGraw said this year’s UConn squad is one of the best she has seen out of Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma.
“They’re a great team. This is as good a team as they’ve had and they’ve had a lot of good teams, so this is one that they just have so many weapons,” McGraw said. “You can’t lay off anybody. I think everybody you play at different times during the year, no matter how good they are, there’s always one person you could maybe double off of or not worry as much about, but this team has five people that can score the ball pretty much every possession. They play hard, they play well, they play great defensively, so there’s not a lot of weaknesses in their game.”
While the Huskies will be missing their star junior forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who injured her foot in UConn’s home opener, the team’s talented starting five has been able to take care of business easily, already defeating No. 7 UCLA, No. 16 Stanford and No. 15 Maryland by significant margins.
“We haven’t watched film yet, I mean, we’ve been focused on all the games we’ve just had, but I’ve played against them two years in a row and they’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Ogunbowale said. “They’ve got a lot of different people who can score. They’ve got a lot of good defense. I think we really need to be focused that game.”
The Irish have not defeated the Huskies since March of 2013 in the Big East Tournament finals, but the Irish are planning on looking at the early-season rivalry game as a measuring stick for the rest of the season.
“It is [helpful playing the game so early in the year],” Westbeld said. “You know, we just played South Carolina last Sunday and playing good competition at the beginning of the year I think is always good just to test where we’re at and this will be a great matchup for us to kind of see some things we need to work on for the rest of the year.”
However, whether or not the odds are stacked against the eight scholarship athletes on the Irish roster, the team has one thing in mind: coming home to Purcell Pavilion at the end of its seven-game road trip with a win on the Huskies’ home court.
“It’s another road game. It’s the last one of our stretch and we want to win,” junior guard Marina Mabrey said. “ … [A win] would mean we successfully completed our road trip. It’s the same team. It’s the same game. It’s a road game. Whoever it is, we want to win.”