Notre Dame women face new dose of adversity

South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said that the Irish learned a lot about themselves when they looked down the barrel of a 12-point deficit before more than 13,000 orange-clad roaring fans at Tennessee’s imposing Thompson-Boling Arena.

They responded in full force.

Now, it looks like the Irish will get to learn how well they can perform without their leading scorer.

Fresh off a blistering second half that helped the Irish pull off a 28-point swing in an 86-70 victory against No. 12 Tennessee, the No. 2-ranked Irish (17-0 overall, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) host Miami (11-7, 3-2) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

The Irish will play the Hurricanes without sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who leads the Irish with an average of 16.9 points a game. Loyd suffered a sprained knee when she was fouled and tripped to the floor late in the Tennessee game.

It’s possible Loyd may also miss Monday’s game at No. 6 Maryland.

“We have to get back into the mind-set of, ‘We’re back in league play,’ ” McGraw said. “Every game is important. We have to be ready. We have to bring the defensively intensity, especially without Jewell. Somebody is going to have to step up.”

Loyd played a key role defensively in helping the Irish rally in the second half. Tennessee hit 19 of 34 shots in the first half (55.9 percent). Ariel Massengale scored 14 points in the first half on 5-of-9 shooting.

Loyd only played five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. In the second half, Tennessee was 2-of-15 shooting in the early going, and ended up hitting only eight of 32 shots (25 percent) in the final 20 minutes. Massengale was 0-for-6 in the second half, and Loyd’s defensive pressure was a big reason.

“Of course, having Jewell Loyd for 18 minutes of the second half, and Lindsay Allen, we played more man-to-man,” McGraw said of the defensive improvement. “We adjusted how we were going to guard the ball screen.

“We did a better job of playing interior defense. They were really beating us inside. I thought we did a much better job of closing that down in the second half.”

With Loyd out against Miami, the Irish depth likely will be affected.

“We play eight, now we’ll only have seven,” McGraw said. “That’s where somebody has to step up. If you have foul trouble, or something else, you can’t rest people as much.

“I think we’ll be fine on the court. We just won’t have that extra spark to come off the bench. We’re hoping we see something from somebody who is on the bench right now.”

McGraw said that 6-foot-2 junior post Markisha Wright has always been ready to step in for the Irish, but that a perimeter player will be needed to also step in and supply the Irish with critical minutes.

“I think Hannah Huffman is close to being that player who emerges for us,” McGraw said. “Hannah plays with a lot of energy. She plays defense and rebounds, and that’s what we need her to do. She’s physical, she’s strong. She is a really good rebounder. I think she will be active on the glass. I think this could be a big chance for her.”

Miami, which made the NCAA Tournament last season, defeated No. 20 North Carolina State, 80-71, at home in its last game. The Hurricanes lost at Boston College, 63-62, a team that Notre Dame beat, 95-53, in South Bend. Miami also lost to the University of Pennsylvania, 67-66, in Miami. Notre Dame beat Penn in Philadelphia, 76-54.

“Miami has some younger players,” McGraw said. “Adrienne Motley, one of their freshmen, is doing really well starting at point guard. She’s an all-rookie player in the ACC. Krystal Saunders is their senior leader. She’s like Kayla McBride. She’s a very good shooter.”

Motley averages 8.8 points and leads Miami with 45 assists. Saunders averages 9.2 points a game. Caprice Dennis, a 5-9 guard, leads the Hurricanes with a scoring average of 13.6 points a game.

Notre Dame will have a height advantage. The Hurricanes only have three players six-foot or taller (Keyona Hayes, 6-1; Maria Brown, 6-1; Jassany Williams, 6-2). McGraw said that the Hurricanes have tailored their attack to their guard-dominated roster.

“Miami is really good on the perimeter,” McGraw said. “Their guards are quick. Miami is coming off of a big win over N.C. State. They’ll have confidence, and they’re dangerous. Anybody in this league can beat us. We really have to be ready.”

McGraw said that defense will once again be a critical area for the Irish.

“I think we have to get the zone working better, and we have to tighten up our man-to-man,” McGraw said. “We have to be better in our help rotation. We have to look to really work off the ball, as well as on the ball, so we’re seeing what’s going to happen next and be a little more aware of what the offense is doing next, so we can stop it.”

Notre Dame's Hannah Huffman, center, may get more minutes with Jewell Loyd sidelined with a knee injury. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WHO: Notre Dame (17-0 overall, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Miami (11-7, 3-2)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), South Bend.

WHEN: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST

TV: None.

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)

ONLINE: www.und.com

TICKETS: Available