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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame hopes to ride momentum into Pitt matchup

| Thursday, January 25, 2018

Coming off the heels of three straight home wins, No. 5 Notre Dame will hit the road this week as it prepares to take on Pittsburgh on Thursday.

This will be the first of three away games the Irish (18-2, 6-1 ACC) have over their next four contests, and the squad is looking to ride its recent successes at home into its road matchups. This past Sunday, Notre Dame defeated Clemson by a score of 90-37, the team’s largest margin of victory since joining the ACC. The Irish have seen strong play out of a number of key contributors recently, none more important than junior guard Arike Ogunbowale, who was named both ACC Player of the Week and USBWA National Player of the Week for her performances against Clemson (11-9, 1-6) and Tennessee. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw has recognized the strong play of her team, particularly Ogunbowale.

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish senior forward Kathryn Westbeld shoots a jumper during Notre Dame’s 84-70 win over Tennessee on Jan. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

“She’s been our leading scorer all year, and she’s been really consistent for us,” McGraw said. “She’s certainly not our only weapon. I think we have a lot of great people around her that can also score a lot of points, but she’s really been shooting the ball well lately, and I think going against Clemson was one of her best performances of the year.”

Going into the matchup Thursday, it should be noted that the Irish have had a considerable amount of success against the Panthers (9-11, 1-6), having won eight straight in the matchup to lead the all-time series, 25-3. McGraw, however, stressed the importance of her team staying focused on the task at hand against a Pittsburgh team that can be tough at times.

“It’s tough, and we’ve struggled at Pitt on occasion. I think they’re a team that can really shoot the ball well, and they’ve got a really good inside presence,” McGraw said. “We’ve got to be really focused on this one. We can’t be looking ahead to the next game.”

On Jan. 11, Notre Dame dropped a 100-67 decision to Louisville, yet they have bounced back since with the three consecutive wins, including a historic 23-point comeback against then-No. 6 Tennessee. McGraw said she has been impressed by her team during this run and appreciates the effort they have put in.

“I love the way we’re playing right now because we have a lot of intensity on defense. I think we’re starting to really believe in it, and I think we’re committed to it,” McGraw said. “We’re rebounding pretty well, we’re shooting the ball well, we’re executing our offense better and I think we’re getting smarter, which is something we have worked a lot on all year long.”

Following Thursday’s game, the road does not get any easier for Notre Dame. The team is set to travel to Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday for a contest against No. 8 Florida State before a home matchup against North Carolina on Feb. 1 and a trip to Durham, North Carolina, to take on Duke just a few days later. The Seminoles (18-2, 6-1) recently edged the Cardinals (20-1, 6-1), 50-49, to put the Irish back at the top of the ACC in a four-way tie for the lead with Florida State, Louisville and Virginia. McGraw said she knows how important it is for her team to have a focused mindset moving forward and to take things one game at a time.

“It definitely is business as usual,” McGraw said. “We’re used to being on the road, and we’ve got to be ready for everything that gets thrown at us.”

The Irish will hope to do just that and take care of business Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh.

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