ND Women’s Basketball
Irish prepare to return to court against Georgia Tech
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, February 9, 2018
Injury-depleted No. 5 Notre Dame will face a test of its stamina against one of the deepest teams in the ACC this weekend, as the Irish host Georgia Tech on Sunday.
While Notre Dame (22-2, 10-1 ACC) has had only seven healthy scholarship players following Lili Thompson’s ACL tear — the fourth of the season for Notre Dame — on Jan. 4, the Yellow Jackets (15-10, 4-8 ACC) have 10 currently-available players who have logged at least 200 minutes, while eight players have played more minutes this season than any healthy Irish player outside of the starting five. The Yellow Jackets also bring plenty of experience, with every single player to have appeared in 2016-17 having returned for this season.
Yet, despite the differences in depth, the Irish have vastly outperformed Georgia Tech in conference play this season. While Notre Dame remains firmly in contention for the regular season title with only one loss, Georgia Tech sits in the bottom half of the conference standings with a 4-8 ACC record. Things did not always look so grim for the Yellow Jackets, who received votes in the AP poll after starting 12-2 with losses only to Baylor and Louisville, the latter coming thanks to a Myisha Hines-Allen layup with only two seconds remaining. But Georgia Tech struggled in the new year, starting 2018 with a 1-7 mark, including a 77-54 loss to the Irish, before picking up two-consecutive wins over conference strugglers Clemson and Boston College to enter this matchup on a two-game win streak.
During that January meeting between the two teams in Atlanta, the Irish built a double-digit lead by the midway point of the first quarter and led by 30 points at halftime before the Yellow Jackets closed the gap slightly with the game already out of reach. Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale led the Irish in scoring with 25 points, including 12 in the first quarter, while the Irish made 62.3 percent of their shots as a team and held the Yellow Jackets to just 30.8 percent shooting. Georgia Tech also made just five of its first 27 shots, while Notre Dame started the game shooting 11-of-14. However, the Yellow Jacket depth was apparent, as junior guard Kaylan Pugh scoring 17 points off the bench for Georgia Tech.
Although the Yellow Jackets’ depth has prevented one player from dominating the stat sheet, sophomore guard and 2016-17 ACC Freshman of the Year Francesca Pan has been a key piece for head coach MaChelle Joseph’s team this season, averaging a team-leading 13 points per game and having made 56 3-pointers, though her efficiency remains low, having made just .340 of her field-goal attempts this season and a .328 mark in conference play. When the Yellow Jackets last came to Purcell Pavilion in 2017, Pan scored 24 of her team’s points, including 18 in the first half before a 3-of-11 second half.
Senior forward Zaire O’Neil also averages double-figure scoring for the Yellow Jackets while leading the team in blocks, despite typically starting games on the bench.
The Irish earned some rest this week, having not played since Feb. 4’s 72-54 victory over Duke, while the Yellow Jackets defeated Boston College on Thursday night. Although the rest should help the Irish prepare for a deeper opponent, head coach Muffet McGraw will have to ensure the team can keep up the momentum that started with a program-record comeback victory over Tennessee.
The Irish will face the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m. Sunday at Purcell Pavilion.