ND Women’s Basketball
Irish happy to be back home; prepare for Spartans
Daniel O'Boyle | Wednesday, December 6, 2017
After seven consecutive games on the road, No. 3 Notre Dame finally returns to Purcell Pavilion, hoping to bounce back from its first loss of the season.
On Sunday, the Irish (7-1) led No. 1 Connecticut by as many as 12 points in the first half and by a score of 68-58 with less than eight minutes remaining, but the Huskies came back to win the game 80-71 to end an Irish road trip that also included wins over No. 5 South Carolina, No. 16 South Florida, No. 19 Oregon State and No. 24 Michigan. Now, the Irish will hope to get back to winning ways when they host Michigan State. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she believes her team has learned a great deal from the road trip and is happy to return home.
“It’s so great to be back here,” McGraw said. “I can’t wait to get back out there in front of our fans. I think we learned a lot over this trip, a lot about our poise in adverse situations. I think we overcame a lot of adversity. To be able to play so many ranked teams and play pretty well, I thought there were a lot of good things to take from that.”
Although the Irish struggled late against the Huskies, McGraw emphasized that she did not believe her team, depleted by three season-ending ACL tears to senior forward Brianna Turner, senior guard Mychal Johnson and freshman center Mikayla Vaughn and coming off the difficult road trip, suffered due to stamina issues.
“I don’t think stamina really came into it,” McGraw said. “In a game like that, nobody’s tired until after it ends. We took some bad shots, we didn’t box out properly a few times and then gave them some second-chance opportunities, I think it was mostly those things.”
The Spartans (5-2) began the season on a roll, winning their opening four games, scoring at least 95 points in each contest and receiving votes in the AP Poll. Yet, like the Irish, they suffered their first loss of the season to the top-ranked Huskies. Unlike Notre Dame’s defeat, Michigan State’s was a one-sided affair, with Connecticut’s 34-point winning margin perhaps flattering the Spartans, who trailed by 44 midway through the fourth quarter. The Spartans were tested against another ACC opponent last week in Miami, but were defeated 67-57 after shooting 21-54 from the field and 6-14 from the line, before narrowly avoiding an upset in a 65-62 win over Western Michigan.
Although the team’s scoring has slowed down considerably, the Spartans still bring the 21st-ranked offense in the nation, thanks to the team’s depth of capable scorers. While no one Michigan State player averages more than redshirt senior guard Branndais Agee’s 11.6 points per game, 11 different players have averaged at least five points, in stark contrast with Notre Dame, where only five healthy players and the injured Vaughn have reached that mark. McGraw said she was impressed with how the team has adapted since last year, when senior forward Tori Jankoska carried the Spartan offense with 22.6 points per game.
“They’re a different team than last year,” McGraw said. “Last year, they had one great player, one go-to player in Tori Jankoska who was responsible for a lot of their scoring. Now they don’t have that player but they’re still putting up points — they’re all putting up points now. There’s a lot of good players, and it’s going to be tough to deal with them all.”
The largest success this season so far for the Spartans, however, has been on the glass, with the team ranked 7th in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-14.6, despite a minus-18 margin against the Huskies. Much like the team’s scoring, team efforts have provided the Spartans’ success, with every player on the roster averaging under six rebounds per game but 10 averaging at least 2.5.
Although McGraw stressed the team aspect of the Spartans, one individual of note will be senior forward Taya Reimer. Reimer started for the Irish as a freshman and averaging 10.4 points per game, while ranking second on the team in both blocks and rebounds, but early in her sophomore season she left the team and chose to transfer to East Lansing. In her first year for the Spartans she earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and she has averaged 10.2 points per game this season despite an injury that caused her to miss two contests.
The Irish and the Spartans will tip off at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.