SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame in general, and Marta Sniezek in particular, keep getting knocked down, and so far, keep getting back up.
Just don’t ask Sniezek to keep track of those knockdowns, or to let up on her pursuit of the stand-tall feeling that a victory would be for the lately free-falling Irish.
“Is that how many it’s been?” Sniezek said Saturday of her drawing at least one opposition charging foul in nine straight women’s basketball games heading into Sunday’s visit by No. 10-ranked North Carolina State.
Sniezek’s next drawn charge will be her 20th of a regular season that is barely more than half over, and will set an unofficial single-season program record, surpassing Kristina Nelson’s 19 for the 2017-18 national champion Irish.
“I’m not big into stats,” Sniezek said. “The only one I really look at is my turnovers, because I try to limit those. … That and wins are all that matters.”
Especially the wins for the graduate student point guard.
As Sniezek trotted over to do an interview before practice Saturday afternoon, she was adjusting a piece of protective equipment draped around her banged-up upper body.
Such presented an opening to ask about that, as well as how her right thumb is doing after she missed all of last season at Stanford due to a torn ligament, and how her heel’s doing after recently missing a game due to plantar fasciitis.
Sniezek didn’t want to visit any of those places, though, at least not on this day.
“I feel great,” she insisted. “I’m excited to play this game tomorrow. I’m ready.”
So, no pain whatsoever?
“Just pains from the losses, that’s all,” Sniezek said.
That’s pain aplenty as far as she and the Irish are concerned.
Notre Dame (6-10, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) is on the cusp of suffering a record-setting fifth straight home defeat and will need a major upset to avoid it.
“Absolutely,” Sniezek said of whether she sees the visit by the Wolfpack (14-1, 3-1) as a special opportunity. “The ACC’s filled with incredible teams. Whether they’re ranked or unranked, you’re going to get great competition every single time you step on the court, but, yeah, I think this one’s real exciting. It’s a very big opportunity for us.”
Over their four league games so far, the Irish have lost twice at home by double digits to teams not expected to sniff league title contention, labored to escape against bottom-dwelling Pittsburgh and, in their most encouraging outing, pushed Syracuse to overtime before still losing by 11.
Now comes an N.C. State club considered better than any of them.
The plus side to such a challenge?
“This is a game where there’s no pressure,” ND coach Muffet McGraw said Saturday. “They’re top 10 and we’re struggling, and I think our players approach those games differently. I think they feel less pressure playing a very good team.”
The Irish have played a bunch of those. They even beat then-No. 21 Michigan on the road, lost by three to then-No. 16 Michigan State and raced the floor on even terms much of the way during a 105-94 loss to then-No. 16 DePaul.
“The most important thing I want us to do for our fans, for ourselves, is to know we’re competing,” McGraw said. “That was the disappointing part of the last game (Thursday’s 75-65 loss to Boston College). I didn’t feel like we competed until the fourth quarter. If we can compete for 40 minutes, I know we’ll get better.”
It starts with practice, according to Sniezek.
“We’re focusing on coming in with a great effort and attitude every day,” she said. “We beat ourselves last time, so we’re just trying to focus on our strengths and trying to fix our weaknesses.”
Asked exactly how the team beat itself, Sniezek said, “I think we just need to stick to the scouting report, trust the coaches and do what we’re good at.”
For Sniezek personally, drawing those charges goes into that good-at group, even if she seems less impressed by the skill than observers do.
“It’s just about good positioning and knowing the scouting report,” Sniezek said. “If you know what the players’ tendencies are, you kind of have a little edge up, and then it’s just staying in position and taking it. There’s not too much to it.”
Big, bad Wolves
The Wolfpack come into Purcell Pavilion off their first loss of the season, 66-60 on Thursday at rival North Carolina.
“They’re just so talented,” McGraw assessed. “(Elissa) Cunane, I think, is one of the best posts in the country, but their guard play is really good, too. Wes (Moore) is a great coach, and they’ll be tough because they run a lot of different sets and our man-to-man is not strong, but they have so many shooters that it’s hard to zone them, too.”
Furthermore, State heads in, at least on paper, with a chance to rule the boards.
The Wolfpack are plus-11.2 per game in rebounds to rank 11th in the country, while Notre Dame is minus-7.4.
“It’s a concern every game,” McGraw said. “That’s something we’ve written on the board every single game, that we gotta rebound, everybody’s gotta get to the boards, and we haven’t been able to do it. We’ve done it for a half, but we haven’t been able to do it for 40 minutes.”
Hot and cold
While the Irish remain decidedly balanced on the season in their scoring, Destinee Walker’s been particularly potent the last few games, and Katlyn Gilbert notably not.
Walker is averaging 20.7 points over ND’s last three contests. The grad student guard is 20-of-42 from the field and 16-of-20 at the line in that span, and has a net field goal percentage of 54.8 when factoring in her six made 3-pointers.
Gilbert, who began the season with 13 straight double-digit scoring games, has slipped recently. The sophomore guard is averaging just 8.3 points in her last three outings, and more problematically, has nosedived in shooting efficiency.
Gilbert’s 10-of-41 from the field in those three games as well as just 20-of-77 over the last five.
Even with her three treys factored, her net percentage for the last five games is 27.9.