Notre Dame women's basketball: Snow forces holiday on McGraw's Irish

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

Natalie Achonwa, a native of Guelph, Ont., tweeted out “Tobagganing anyone?”

Kayla McBride’s tweet revealed the toughness from her snowbelt upbringing in Erie, Pa.

“All this snow in south bend … this is a normal day in Erie lol #814 #mostsnowinamerica #nodaysoff”

Michaela Mabrey used a photo of a snowbound car in South Bend against the backdrop of a raging blizzard to get her point across, accompanying the tweet, “My life.”

A day after the Fighting Irish defeated Clemson, 71-51, in Notre Dame’s inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball game, the Irish were stuck in a local hotel due to the weather emergency forced by a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures.

Members of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team have been at a Mishawaka hotel since the first semester ended. They haven’t been able to leave the hotel since they returned after Sunday’s game. The No. 2-ranked Irish (13-0) expect to be able to practice on Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against Boston College (9-5).

“The girls are stuck at the Varsity Club, and they don’t have a restaurant,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s open, and how are we going to feed them. It’s a little bit scary to try and figure out things like that. They’re stuck in the hotel just sitting around. Everything is closed. The movies are closed. The restaurants are closed. The mall is closed.

“The staff is all stuck. We can’t get out of our neighborhoods. Our trainer, Anne Marquez, had to go to the hotel to do treatments, because the university is closed. They didn’t want student-athletes driving, so we weren’t allowed to go in and practice. It’s kind of an enforced holiday, which I’m sure the girls are OK with, but I’ll bet they’re dying to get in the gym and do something.”

Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd said the Irish have had some answers to battling cabin fever.

“I told (Irish assistant director of operations and technology Angie Potthoff) to go to Walgreen’s and buy a mini-hoop,” Loyd said. “We’ve got it on the door. The games are pretty competitive. We’re a very competitive group. Anything we do is going to be serious. I can alley-oop and I can go between the legs, around the back, eyes closed for the dunk.”

Loyd said the players are faring well.

“The worst thing is not being able to shoot,” Loyd said. “We all want to go to (Purcell Pavilion) and get some shooting in. We’ve been doing a lot of relaxing, watching football, watching movies. Now, it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve seen that movie.’ We’re trying to stay active as much as we can. We got in nice workouts riding the bike and swimming.’’

Pressure game

McGraw said she would take a different approach to Sunday’s game against Clemson, in which the Irish led only 27-23 at halftime and were shooting only 28.6 percent in the first half (8-of-28). Clemson entered the game 8-6, and lost to Oregon State 74-41, a team Notre Dame beat 70-58.

“I think we were so into this first ACC game, we have to be great, we have to set a tone, we have to do all these things,” McGraw said. “We didn’t just enjoy playing the game. I think everybody was a little intense. It was like it was different. It wasn’t like the pre-conference games. It was like, ‘This really means a lot.’ I think we can still feel that way and have intensity, but I think we also have to enjoy playing the game more.

“I felt the same way. I was at the forefront of talking about intensity and we have to show the league what we have here. I think I took the wrong approach. There was a lot of hype, it was very drawn out, and then we had the announcement right before tip-off, so let’s think about it a little more.”

McGraw said the answer to Notre Dame’s sluggish play against Clemson will be solved when no one is in the stands at Purcell Pavilion.

“Our problem is practice,” McGraw said. “We have to practice better. That will prepare us for the game. We had two really bad practices leading up to the Clemson game, and I thought we played just like we practiced. We were really lethargic. We didn’t have the intensity and the energy.’’

“We will definitely regain the intensity at practice. We’ll make practice more competitive.”

Bench issue

Notre Dame’s top three reserves, Taya Reimer, Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable have turned in exceptional efforts this season. Reimer entered the Clemson game averaging 9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Mabrey entered averaging 9.8 points and was second in the ACC in assists-to-turnover ratio (2.75). Cable entered the game averaging 6.8 points and leading the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage (.565).

On Sunday, Reimer, Mabrey and Cable were a combined 0-of-4 shooting and 2-of-6 from the free-throw line (Reimer) for four points. They played a combined 35 minutes.

“Madison has been playing really well,” McGraw said. “She had a great finish at the Oregon State game. She’s had some really big games. Taya is a freshman. She’s going to have games like Clemson. She’s just trying too hard. She puts a lot of pressure on herself. I’m not worried about any of them. Michaela stepped up at Penn State and Michigan.

“They’ve all stepped up in big games. We’re just used to all of them or at least two of them playing really well on any given night. Against Clemson, none of the three played that well, and that’s the first time we’ve seen that. We’re not going to panic about that.’’

According to McGraw, she should have stayed with her key reserves longer. She also said she needs other reserves to step up.

“They didn’t play well in the first half, and I think I needed to give them a second chance to play better, which we usually do.’’ she said. “But that game was very stressful, for everybody. I think they felt pressure to really play well when they went in, and that’s not the attitude to have going into a game.’’

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) looks to drive the baseline as she is guarded by Clemson's Chancie Dunn (23) during their game at the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. Sunday, January 5, 2014. SBT Photo/MIKE HARTMAN