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ND Women’s Basketball

No. 1 Irish look to extend perfect season against No. 14 Iowa

| Thursday, November 29, 2018

Brian Kelly’s football team isn’t the only Notre Dame squad with an undefeated record. The Notre Dame women’s basketball team has been defending their national championship title in style, boasting a 6-0 record to begin its season. The Irish haven’t lost a regular season game since Jan. 11, when they lost to the Louisville Cardinals in Kentucky.

But Notre Dame will certainly have their hands full this week as it looks to remain perfect against No. 14 Iowa tonight in Purcell Pavilion. The matchup against the Hawks will be a part of the ACC/B1G Challenge, and it marks Notre Dame’s third top-15 matchup of the season so far. Although the Irish will move on to face the formidable No. 2 UConn Huskies this Sunday after their matchup against the Hawkeyes (4-1), they will remain focused on the game in front of them.

Michelle Meha

Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey dribbles the ball and surveys the court during Notre Dame’s 84-74 win over Oregon in the elite eight of the 2018 NCAA championships.

“We have so many top matchups” Irish head coach Muffett McGraw remarked. “We’re playing a lot of top teams, so we have to be ready every single game. Iowa’s a really good team and I know that we’re very focused on that.”

McGraw has been effective in passing her focus-on-a-single-game mentality on to her players too — “We just take it one game at a time,” junior guard Jackie Young remarked.

Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale echoed Young’s attitude.

“Just taking it day by day. I think that’s what we’re best at and we don’t really, you know, look forward to the future. We just try to focus on each game because everybody’s going to give us their best game. So we definitely have to be prepared every night,” Ogunbowale said.

The Irish are coming off the Vancouver Showcase, where they bested Gonzaga, No. 24 Drake and No. 9 Oregon State in a three-day tournament to nab first place. But after winning the first two matchups easily, Notre Dame struggled in the final game, playing from behind for the first three quarters.

“We started out the Oregon State game poorly on defense.” McGraw said. “We gave them a lot of really open shots — our transition defense has been a problem for us. And then just figuring things out offensively, you know, how are they guarding us, what’s open, what’s available. So I think it’s taken a little more time than I would like for us to really get to where we look sharp and I don’t think we’ve had that game yet.”

The Irish will look to find their stride tonight against the Hawks, but the game won’t be an easy one. Iowa is anchored by Megan Gustafson, a senior forward and the Hawk’s leading scorer with 116 points on the season, so Notre Dame will certainly have their work cut out for them, especially down low.

“She’s an All-American. I think she’s a terrific post player. Probably the best we’ve seen so far.” McGraw said. “She’s somebody that is shooting I think close to 80 percent from the field, which is phenomenal. She can score — if she gets the ball, she’s going to score. So we’ve got to try to figure out — can we prevent her from getting in and if she gets it, what can we do to stop her? And so far, nobody’s been able to do it.”

But the Irish defense has been effective so far this season, allowing an average of 66.7 points per game while scoring 88.8 points per game. An effective contributor to this Irish defense will undoubtedly be senior guard Marina Mabrey, who made her season debut against Oregon State after being sidelined for the first five games with an injury. Despite only playing 19 minutes, Mabrey notched nine points and two assists, accompanied by a steal and a rebound.

“It’s so great to have Marina Mabrey back.” McGraw said. “I mean that was just amazing that she made such an impact in the game just in time that she was allowed to play. I thought she brought us great energy and just having another guard that can shoot a three is what we’ve really been lacking.”

Ogunbowale was also excited to see her classmate back on the court. “She’s a veteran.  She’s helped us win a national championship, helped us throughout these three years and to have her back, her experience at the point guard position, it really calmed everybody down.” Ogunbowale noted.

“I would have like to have been back earlier,” Mabrey said. “But… we knew that wasn’t really something that’s realistic, so being able to be back for this stretch is exciting. It was fun … being able to just be out there for even half the game was just something I’ve missed.”

McGraw said she will play Mabrey as much as possible from this point forward, according to medical recommendations.

“I think the doctors are giving us a number of minutes that she can play in the quarter and that’s what we’re trying to stick to,” she said

On her return to the court, Mabrey added, “I think it’s going to be a few weeks before I look like my normal self out there, but just trusting the process and playing through it, getting better with my cardio and stuff like that. That’s really what I’m concentrated on and just trying to help the team as much as I can while I’m in there for these next couple of games.”

While Mabrey has recovered, McGraw has turned to her underclassmen to contribute.

“I think that was probably the best thing about the tournament, was seeing the contribution from different people.” McGraw said. “You saw [freshman guard] Abby Prohaska and [sophomore forward] Danielle Patterson up top, having the best game of the season. And then you saw [freshman guard] Katlyn Gilbert really come alive in the tournament at Oregon State … I think there’s still a pretty big gap between the bench and the starters, I mean talking about five WNBA players and a lot of freshmen … [but] we know we can count on them.”

Ogunbawale said she and her teammates try to help prepare the younger players in any ways that they can.

“I mean they probably have a lot of nerves, you know, going into these games, but just trying to calm them down … [we] try to give them guidance,” she said.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

 

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