SOUTH BEND — A game that’s been occupying Notre Dame ever since beating Wake Forest on Sunday has been a waiting game, and not a remotely comfortable one for the No. 2-ranked women’s basketball team in the country.
The injury-peppered Irish are expected to finally learn the prognosis for Lili Thompson on Wednesday, but coach Muffet McGraw on Tuesday was already bracing for the prospect of moving forth at least temporarily minus the graduate transfer point guard.
That prospect could even include an “opportunity for the walk-ons to actually get in the game now with some quality minutes,” McGraw projected of sophomore guard Kaitlin Cole and junior forward Maureen Butler.
After all, without Thompson, Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0) would be down to seven scholarship players heading into Thursday’s Atlantic Coast Conference visit by Miami (11-3, 1-0).
Thompson — typically the team’s first player off the bench, as well as its assist and steal leader — suffered a right knee injury late in the third quarter of ND’s 96-73 road win at Wake Forest.
Initially, an MRI was planned for Monday, but because it was New Year’s Day, “we couldn’t get a doctor,” McGraw said.
Thompson finally underwent an MRI at 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to Notre Dame spokesperson Josh Bates, but results were not expected to be read until Wednesday.
“I don’t think she’ll go Thursday,” McGraw said of Thompson playing against Miami.
If Thompson can’t go anytime soon, the Irish will be navigating yet another major personnel setback in a 2017-18 that’s been full of them.
Mikayla Vaughn and Mychal Johnson were sidelined for the season by knee injuries early on, while All-American Brianna Turner is not playing this season after suffering a knee injury in NCAA Tournament play last March.
“I think everybody’s got to do just a little bit more,” McGraw said matter of factly.
“Our issue,” the coach added of the smaller roster, “is we’ve really got to play smart. We cannot get in foul trouble. We’ve got to figure out a way to defend without fouling.”
Though the team’s lone two remaining healthy scholarship backups — fifth-year player Kristina Nelson and freshman Danielle Patterson — are both forwards, McGraw said Thompson’s injury is still a chance for each to play more.
“It’s an opportunity right now for Danielle,” McGraw said. “Koko (Nelson) played really well against Wake Forest. It’s an opportunity for her to play more.”
Nelson notched season highs of 13 points, seven rebounds and 22 minutes against the Demon Deacons. For the season, she’s averaging 4.5 points in 11.2 minutes, while Patterson’s at 2.6 in 9.0.
As for point guard play, “it’s by committee right now anyway, so I think it’ll continue to be a bigger committee,” McGraw said.
Irish stars Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey have each steered the offense at times, and the coach expressed confidence in sophomore Jackie Young as well.
“I think Arike’s going to help us in the full court and Jackie did a nice job at the end of the Wake Forest game,” McGraw said. “I feel like we have people available to help us, and I think we’ll be OK.”
While Thompson carries the team’s best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.9, a case might be made that part of that is by virtue of the roles that players have been serving. Ogunbowale checks in at 1.6, Young at 1.4 and Mabrey 1.3.
Besides players mentioned already, the ND roster continues to include standout forward Jessica Shepard, who has remained effective through a pair of recent ankle sprains, and senior forward Kathryn Westbeld, beginning to make major contributions lately after initially recovering more slowly than hoped following offseason ankle surgery.
If Notre Dame is forced to go with seven scholarship players for a while, it won’t be unprecedented under McGraw.
The coach recalled Tuesday that the program had just seven healthy such players during portions of the 1997 Big East and NCAA tourneys. Manager Christy Grady played during that season.
Notre Dame wound up losing 80-66 in the Final Four to eventual champion Tennessee.
Then there’s ND’s 2001 national title season, hardly one that was marked by utilizing depth.
In their 68-66 championship win over Purdue, the Irish played just seven individuals, and one of them for just five minutes. Niele Ivey and Kelly Siemon each played 40 minutes.
In its 90-75 semifinal win over Connecticut that year, ND used eight players, but one of them for merely a minute. In the 72-64 regional final victory over Vanderbilt, all five starters played at least 34 minutes, while three subs combined to play 17.
This season, Ogunbowale is averaging 33.1 minutes, Young 33.0, Mabrey 32.2, Shepard 28.4 and Thompson 27.1. Westbeld’s at 22.8, but that includes 29.0 over the last three games.
WHO: Miami, Fla. (11-3, 1-0 ACC) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0 ACC).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.
RADIO: Pulse (96.9 / 92.1 FM).
WEB: ACC Network Extra.