Notre Dame women's basketball: There’s reason to be wary of Wolverines

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw doesn’t need a scouting report on Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.

McGraw has an idea of what to expect when No. 4 Notre Dame (8-0) plays Michigan (7-3) on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

McGraw and Barnes Arico coached against each other for 10 seasons in the Big East when Barnes Arico was the head coach at St. John’s.

“She is somebody who will figure out a defense to try and slow us down,’’ McGraw said. “She’s somebody that would use a triangle-and-two or a box-and-one, different kinds of zones. She’ll do a lot of different things than we’ve seen so far.

“Michigan had a really good year last year (Barnes Arico’s first with the Wolverines finished 22-11). I think they overachieved, and then they graduated four starters. They lost six seniors in all. They’re really starting over, and she’s got them playing really well (7-3). They won their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game (73-53 over Virginia). Kim is a really good coach. We expect a big challenge from them.”

Notre Dame last played Michigan on Dec. 10, 2008. The Irish lead the series 9-7. The renewal of the series came about last year.

“We scrimmaged Michigan last year, and we decided to make it a series,” McGraw said. “It’s a great rivalry with Notre Dame and Michigan. We used to play them.

We were really happy to pick it up again.”

When Notre Dame last stepped on the court against Michigan, it was in Ann Arbor, where the Irish are 2-5 against Michigan. The Wolverines won that battle in overtime, 63-59.

Notre Dame will have to be wary of the Wolverines, who were 9-7 in the Big Ten last season. Michigan advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

This season, the Wolverines fell 64-62 to No. 15 LSU, in the Barclays Invitational in Brooklyn on Nov. 30. In that game, the Wolverines were without leading scorer Shannon Smith (17.3 points a game), who suffered a back injury in an 82-71 victory against Texas Tech on Nov. 29.

Smith, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, played for the first time since suffering her injury on Wednesday in an 89-75 victory over Eastern Michigan. She played 17 minutes, scoring five points.

Smith started her career at North Carolina, and then transferred to Trinity Valley. She led Trinity Valley to a junior college national title last season, averaging 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game.

Notre Dame caps a tough stretch of five games in 19 days, playing No. 25 DePaul, Duquesne, No. 10 Penn State, UCLA and Michigan.

“In different games in the stretch, I’ve been pleased with different things,” McGraw said. “In the Penn State game, I thought our defense was outstanding. In the UCLA game, I thought our offense was good. We still have a ways to go.

“I would hope for a little better execution. Even though we’re scoring a lot of points, we’re scoring a lot in transition. We’re not really running our offense much. I look for us to score a little bit more out of the offense, a little more execution.”

In running its halfcourt offense, Notre Dame will focus on back-door opportunities and the pick-and-roll.

“We’re coming down in transition and getting a shot before we get into the offense,” McGraw said. “We have to prepare for a team that forces us to run our offense.”

McGraw said the biggest feature to emerge during the tough non-conference stretch has been the bench.

“Taya Reimer is the best sixth man in basketball,” McGraw said. “Madison Cable is coming off a big game, Michaela Mabrey has been playing well. I’d love for one more player to come along, Markisha Wright, Hannah Huffman.”

Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico, pictured, and Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw coached against each other for 10 years in the Big East Conference as Barnes Arico used to coach at St. John's. AP Photo/JOHN MINCHILLO