The Notre Dame women’s basketball team continued their winning ways this week, adding ACC wins over Miami and Georgia Tech. They also lost one player to injury and added a new face to the roster.
After her injury late in the third quarter against Wake Forest, the team confirmed that point guard Lili Thompson has torn her ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. She joins Brianna Turner, Mikayla Vaughn, and Mychal Johnson on the bench, all with ACL injuries. This streak of bad luck has really been unbelievable. Thompson’s injury is a significant loss to the already-depleted Irish roster. The team will not only miss having her available to run the point, but having her strong defensive skill set on the court as well. Prior to her injury, Thompson led the team in steals while averaging 5.9 points and 4.6 assists per game.
While the remaining uninjured players are an extremely talented group, I have to wonder if eventually they are going to hit a wall. Even with great conditioning, 35-40 minutes every game is a lot to ask of these players. McGraw has indicated that they will be needing to change the way they practice, to allow more rest and limit risk of additional injuries.
In an attempt to fill out the roster a bit, the team announced that a third walk-on player has been added. Nicole Benz is a freshman guard from Valencia, CA. It is unusual for McGraw’s teams to have any walk-ons, so adding a third shows just how strange this year has been.
Game 1: Miami at #2 Notre Dame
On Thursday, the Irish hosted Miami at Purcell Pavilion. Miami is one of the only two teams to have beaten Notre Dame in the ACC, and came ready to give the Irish another test. Notre Dame got off to a very rocky start in this game. Maybe they were up too late the night before celebrating Mike Brey’s record-breaking win. Whatever the reason, things just were not clicking to start this game. In the first minute alone, Miami jumped out to a 6-0 lead. The Irish struggled with offensive fouls and turnovers, unable to get their offense going. With 4:27 remaining in the first quarter, Miami led 14-3 and the Irish had gone 1 of 8 from the floor. They were able to get some decent looks in that stretch, but the shots were not falling. Fortunately, this luck changed and they were able to start actually making some shots. Making 6 of 6 free throws in that last 4:27, the Irish cut Miami’s lead to 22-18 by the end of the first quarter.
The Irish kept chipping away at Miami’s lead in the second quarter. Marina Mabrey hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 26. Mabrey had a great first half in this game, scoring 14 points before the break. The two teams played fairly evenly for the remainder of the quarter. One stretch featured traveling calls on Miami on two consecutive possessions. Freshman Danielle Patterson scored the last four points of the half, and the Irish held a 40-36 lead at halftime. As the season goes on, Patterson has started to see a little more playing time. I would expect that to continue going forward, as she will be needed to provide some rest for the starters. With only Patterson and Kristina Nelson as scholarship players available to sub in, every minute is going to be valuable.
Unfortunately, the second half of this game started much like the first. Miami opened the half with a steal to kick off a 6-0 run to retake the lead and force the Notre Dame timeout. During the first two minutes, the Irish turned the ball over three times. As the quarter continued, Arike Ogunbowale continued to struggle to knock down shots. The teams took turns getting hot and cold. Later in the quarter, Notre Dame had a 6-0 run of their own to take a 55-50 lead, but Miami responded with a 5-0 run to tie it up. The third quarter also included several more traveling calls against Miami. The game was tied at 55 after the third quarter.
Ogunbowale came alive in the fourth quarter. 12 of her 20 points and 3 of her 4 assists came in this final period. With 7:28 remaining, she missed a shot, got her own rebound, and scored on the tip-in. She was fouled on the play and also made the free throw, giving the Irish a 62-57 lead. Miami stayed close behind, however, as the Irish players started to look a little tired. Mabrey, who had been on the court the entire game, made a couple of uncharacteristic passing mistakes, and everyone was a little slower getting up and down the floor. The Irish were finally able to stretch their lead to seven a couple of times in the quarter. Miami cut the lead to three with just 38 seconds remaining, but strong free throw shooting allowed the Irish to finish on top with a final score of 83-76. Marina Mabrey played all but the last 4.3 seconds of the game. She wasn’t too far ahead of Jackie Young, who played 38 minutes, or Ogunbowale, who played 37. Westbeld also contributed 31 minutes. As already mentioned, it’s going to be tough to sustain these totals.
You could argue that the Irish got away with one here. Miami led them in just about every statistical category except the final score. ND was outrebounded, had a lower shooting percentage, lost the battle in the paint 48-42, had fewer bench points, points off of turnovers, and fast break points, but in the end they didn’t back down and they came away with the win. I’ll take it. One particularly bright point in this game was the team’s excellent free-throw shooting. Led by Ogunbowale’s 12 of 13, the team hit 22 of 26 from the line. Mabrey and Ogunbowale led the Irish in scoring with 21 and 20 points, respectively.
Game 2: #2 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
On Sunday, the Irish headed south to take on Georgia Tech. Whatever shooting woes had plagued them against Miami had apparently disappeared. Ogunbowale was back to shooting well, and the team joined her. With nice passing inside, the Irish shot 70% in the first half of this game. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, struggled with turnovers and ND was able to capitalize on these mistakes. In the first quarter alone, the Irish scored 12 points off of Georgia Tech turnovers. Looking a little more comfortable in a zone defense, the Irish jumped out to a 20-7 lead before the first quarter media timeout, and led 24-11 at the end of the quarter. Ogunbowale hit 5 of 5 shots in the quarter, including 2 of 2 from three-point range.
The team continued to perform well offensively in the second quarter, with contributions from Jackie Young and Kristina Nelson. After playing nearly the full 40 minutes against Miami, Marina Mabrey picked up her second personal foul less than four minutes into the second quarter. McGraw pulled her from the game. This was a good reminder for Irish fans that there are no scholarship guards to come off the bench in these situations, and walk-on Kaitlin Cole came in for Mabrey. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on her at this point since the Irish had a substantial lead, and she played a few minutes before Danielle Patterson entered the game. Foul trouble will be a real concern for the team in close games. The team continued to play aggressively, scoring in the paint a lot, and led Georgia Tech 48-18 at halftime.
Since the Irish had the 30 point lead at this point, they had some room for mistakes in the second half. The third quarter got off to a sloppy start for ND, with multiple turnovers (including those on three consecutive possessions) allowing Georgia Tech to go on a 9-0 run. Between these turnovers and offensive fouls, the Irish were scoreless until the 5:06 mark of the third quarter. At that point, Ogunbowale hit a three-pointer and the team began to settle back in. While they never regained the impressive confidence they displayed in the first half, the Irish played well enough to maintain a sizable lead. They were up 62-34 at the end of the third quarter.
After her 21 point outing against Miami, Marina Mabrey had a quieter game against Georgia Tech. While she wasn’t doing much scoring, she did run the offense for the majority of the game and did a good job assuming this role. The team did a good job getting back on defense despite presumably being tired late in this game. Georgia Tech was able to get open looks late in the game, but it was too late for any comeback by then. In the closing minutes all three walk-ons entered the game for the Irish, and ND completed the win with a final score of 77-54. This was a homecoming game for Georgia native Kristina Nelson, and she responded with 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists in front of her family and friends. Ogunbowale led the scorers with 25 points.
Burger Basket Leaderboard (Season 2)
(At Notre Dame home games where the Irish score 88 points or more, the fans in attendance receive coupons for a free burger. I’m tracking which player is responsible for feeding the fans the most often over the course of the season).
There are no changes this week, as the team was five points away from the mark against Miami.
Marina Mabrey – 1
Kristina Nelson – 1
Arike Ogunbowale – 1
Lili Thompson – 1
A big test awaits the Irish on Thursday night. They will travel to #3 Louisville for a prime time ESPN game. The Cardinals are currently a perfect 18-0, including wins over four ranked teams. Louisville star Asia Durr comes in averaging more than 20 points per game, and should be a difficult matchup for this depleted Notre Dame team.
The Irish will follow this up by hosting Boston College on Sunday. BC continues to struggle this year, holding a 6-9 record thus far. They are 1-1 in ACC play after beating North Carolina on Friday.