ND Women’s Basketball
Irish prepare for match-up with Virginia Tech with eye towards ACC tournament
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, February 22, 2018
In an unfamiliar position as the regular season winds down, Notre Dame finds control for the top seed of the ACC tournament still out of its hands as the they face Virginia Tech on Thursday.
The Irish are tied at the top of the conference standings with Louisville, as both teams hold 13-1 conference records, but because of the Cardinals’ 100-67 rout over the Irish in January, Louisville holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If the Irish are to secure the top seed and an outright ACC regular-season title for the fifth consecutive season, they will need to hope for Louisville to lose, either against a Virginia team that started conference play strong at 8-1 but has now lost four of its last five games, or against Pittsburgh, who post a 10-17 record this season.
However, the first priority for the Irish will be taking care of their own business against the Hokies before facing North Carolina State on Sunday. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said her team tries to avoid thinking of certain games as crucial to securing key goals like a top seed.
“At the start of the year we set goals, but then we never talk about them again until the end of the year,” McGraw said. “We set goals at the start of the season, but we never think, ‘We’ve got to win this game to get first place, we’ve got to win this game to get a No. 1 seed.’ We never talk about any of that.”
The Hokies (17-10, 6-8 ACC) received a lone vote in the AP Poll at the start of 2018 after a strong out-of-conference performance. However, the team struggled to continue their momentum against an ACC schedule, with junior point guard Chanette Hicks’ decision to leave the team indefinitely making it even more difficult for them to return to early-season form. Yet despite not being able to match their out-of-conference success, Virginia Tech has already achieved its most conference wins since a 6-8 record in 2006-07 and is one win away from its most since 2003-04, hoping to also reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2005, missing out last year despite holding the No. 15 ranking in mid-January thanks to a string of 11 consecutive losses before one win and a loss to Clemson in the ACC Tournament.
Like the Irish, the Hokies are led by a junior guard who has been one of the top offensive players in the ACC this season. While Arike Ogunbowale sits second in the ACC in scoring with 20.1 points per game, Virginia Tech’s Taylor Emory sits in fifth with 18.0. Despite the loss of Hicks and the team’s struggles in conference play, Emory has been a success offensively for Virginia Tech, averaging 19.9 points per game in conference on a .476 shooting percentage and has averaged more than 23 points per game and made more than half of her shots in games without Hicks, while taking on an increased facilitating role with an average of three assists per game. Regan Magarity has also been a threat for the Hokies, ranking second in the team in points and first in rebounds and blocks, while possessing an ability to stretch the floor with 28 three-pointers this season.
For the Irish, the game comes after an 89-55 victory over Boston College that saw career-highs for graduate student forward Kristina Nelson in both points and assists, scoring 16, dishing out seven assists without a turnover and adding eight rebounds.
“I trust [Nelson],” McGraw said. “She comes in, she always gives us a lift at times when we need it because she always knows exactly what to do. She knows exactly what we’re supposed to do and she has great energy. She’ll take a charge, she’ll rebound, she’ll do a lot of good things, she always knows how to guard people inside. And now she’s scoring too, and passing with seven assists and no turnovers, that’s point guard numbers. I’m really, really pleased with what she’s doing. She’s given us a lift all year long and she just continues to get better.”
The Irish will face the Hokies at 7 p.m. Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.