Wright helped ND women stuff Maryland

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Maryland’s Alicia DeVaughn stole a pass at the 8:47 mark of the second half, and gave the upset-minded Terrapins a surge of momentum in their battle Monday night against No. 2-ranked Notre Dame.

The surge lasted four seconds.

Irish junior Markisha Wright leaped to steal a pass by DeVaughn, and quickly dished the ball off to sharpshooter Kayla McBride.

McBride nailed a 3-pointer, and all of the sudden, Notre Dame had a 70-64 lead, instead of a 67-64 lead with the ball in Maryland’s hands.

Wright, a 6-foot-2 forward from Des Moines, Iowa, also delivered on two other critical hustle plays, as the Irish escaped No. 8 Maryland with an 87-83 victory to remain unbeaten.

Wright raced to grab a deflected 3-point shot by the Irish and hit a layup to give Notre Dame a 62-60 lead at the 11:15 mark, and one minute earlier, she blocked a shot to keep the Terps from tying the score.

Notre Dame (19-0 overall, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be counting on Wright to deliver more clutch plays off the bench on Thursday night, when the Irish host Virginia Tech (10-9, 0-6). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST.

Wright averages 2.6 points and 1.8 assists a game.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that Wright contributes in critical ways.

“Her role really is defense and rebounding,” McGraw said. “She’s the physical player on the team. She’s the one we have to count on to set a great screen. She’s our best screener. She’s got to get people open in the offense by setting screens, by getting the box-out, keeping somebody off the glass.

“Her role doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. She does a lot of different things that really help us, that she doesn’t get any credit for.”

Wright’s three hustle plays in a four-point Irish victory were vital, according to McGraw.

“I thought Markisha played critical minutes for us and was probably the defensive player of the game,” McGraw said. “She was able to guard (Maryland All-American Alyssa) Thomas when nobody else could.

“Markisha made some huge plays. I think the greatest thing about (Wright) is that she’s always ready. I trust her to know the scouting report and the game plan. She listens. She works hard every day. She didn’t even play a couple of games ago, but yet she’s ready for the Maryland game. She waited for her opportunity, and came in and took advantage of it.”

Wright said that she embraced the challenge of guarding Thomas, who bullied the Irish for 29 points and 12 rebounds, but was slowed down by Wright.

“I had to go in and guard Alyssa Thomas,” Wright said. “I went out there and that was my main focus, defense. I tried to keep the ball away from her. She’s a great player. I think having that big job, I was really focused in. I don’t know if I’ve had a job like that any other game, so I took it to heart.”

Subbing in isn’t always easy, but Wright has accepted the role.

“I always try to keep my head in the game,” Wright said. “You never know what’s going to happen. We work on it at practice. You always have to be ready. You can’t take plays off because you haven’t been playing a lot, or you haven’t been playing well. I definitely think I’ll be ready when my number is called.”

Wright will be needed again to help stop a forceful post, Virginia Tech’s Uju Ugoka, a 6-1 senior. Ugoka is second in the ACC with 20.2 points and 11.2 rebounds a game.

“Virginia Tech almost beat Duke,” McGraw said. “They only lost by four points. They gave them a heck of a game.

“Ugoka is very strong. She can put it on the floor. She creates a lot of problems for our defense. That’s my worry. I think we just showed that we have trouble guarding an inside player. We have to be really focused. We need to play really good team defense.”

McGraw said the focus of practice between the Maryland game and the Virginia Tech game was defense, with an eye toward playing Ugoka.

“A lot of it is awareness,” McGraw said of playing interior defense. “We showed (the Irish players) the film on Maryland, where they could have been, how they could have helped more. The box-out was a big problem. That’s something that we really have to key on.

“It was also effort. Maryland outworked us, they outmuscled us ... we just sat around and let them. I would have liked to have had another day to have really taken care of it.”

Notre Dame's Markisha Wright (34) moves by Miami's Caprice Dennis during the Notre Dame-Miami women's basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)