Notre Dame women's offense 'like poetry'

South Bend Tribune

Many college women’s basketball teams hit the wall in February.

Notre Dame is vaulting over it.

In three games in February against No. 3 Duke, and two teams that have been ranked in the Top 25, Florida State and Syracuse, the Irish have been soaring.

No. 2 Notre Dame hopes to keep the ascent going on Thursday at Boston College. The Irish (23-0, 10-0 ACC) and Eagles (12-13, 3-8) are scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. EST.

A victory by the Irish would be a program-record 24-0 start, which would top the 23-0 start by the national championship team of 2000-2001.

Notre Dame hammered BC, 95-53, on Jan. 9.

So far this month, the Irish dismantled Duke, 88-67, and Florida State, 81-60, both on the road. The Irish then tore apart Syracuse, 101-64, at home on Sunday. The Irish shot 61.8, 53.4 and 50.7 percent in those three games.

“It has been fun,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I find myself on the bench, more and more, just enjoying the game at times when we’re just in such a great flow offensively, and we’re hitting shots.”

Irish numbers have been climbing in ACC play.

Kayla McBride, who scored 20 points against BC on Jan. 9, is averaging 17.0 points, including 19.3 in her last 10 games. She has bumped her shooting average to 49 percent thanks to hitting 52 percent in her last five games.

Michaela Mabrey, who hit 5-of-6 from 3-point range against Boston College on Jan. 9 and finished with 18 points, hit six 3s on Sunday against Syracuse. She has hit 22-of-55 from 3-point range (47 percent) in her last 10 games, boosting her shooting percentage for 3s to 43 percent.

Natalie Achonwa is hitting 72 percent of her shots in her last five games, and is now No. 5 in the nation in shooting (60 percent).

Taya Reimer is hitting 60 percent of her shots in her last four games, increasing her season percentage to 51.

“It’s like poetry to me,” McGraw said of the Irish offensive upswing. “We can be so graceful and fluid and efficient at the same time. It’s great to see what you do in practice transfer over to the game.”

McGraw credited recent strong starts by McBride, a 5-11 senior guard, with jump-starting the Irish.

“At the beginning of the year, I thought Kayla McBride was going to have an incredible year, because we couldn’t guard her at practice,” McGraw said. “Our men’s practice squad couldn’t guard her. We couldn’t guard her. She’s really raised her game. She was just so confident. She works so hard. She shoots all the time. It’s at a point when where we’re surprised if she misses.

“Kayla is usually the one who gets us started. Against Duke, she made her first five shots. There are nights when it seems like everything is going in for us.”

Despite the hot-handed shooting and a 42-point earlier victory over the Eagles, McGraw is cautious about playing at BC.

“I think it’s good and bad,” McGraw said of the Jan. 9 rout of the BC. “It’s good that we know we can win, and we played well. We know we can win, but at the same time, it’s easier to look past someone when you’ve won by that much. We better really stay focused.”

McGraw said that both teams will have a different look on Thursday.

“I expect them to do some different things,” McGraw said. “We, obviously, want to attack them the same way. That was successful for us last time. But we expect that they will do things differently. We have some new wrinkles to put in, too. When you play a team the second time, you don’t just want to come out and do the exact same thing, because they’ll be ready for that.”

Hard to find fault with anything at the moment, but McGraw says her club’s press is just “OK.’’

“That’s something I’d love to be better at.”

Notre Dame’s issue with the press is personnel driven according to McGraw. The Irish have to have the right combination on the floor for it to be effective.

“There’s a little bit of an attitude, a risk-takers’ attitude, when you press, that you have to be able to go for the basketball,” McGraw said. “It’s 50-50. You might not get it, but you can’t be conservative and worry that you might get beat. You have to go all out. We have some people who are a little more cautious. We have some people who are afraid to get up on the ball, because they don’t want to get beat. We just have to find the right group, and the right press.

“It’s important to do something different, have a different look, so the offense can’t be ready for the same thing every time. The press would be ideal for that.”

Notre Dame's Kayla McBride, center, vies for a loose ball with Virginia Tech's Vanessa Panousis, left, and Hannah Young during their game last month. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (23-0, 10-0 ACC) vs. Boston College (12-13, 3-8)

Where: Conte Forum (8,606), Chestnut Hill, Mass.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: None locally

Radio: Pulse FM (96.9, 92.1)

Online: www.und.com

Tickets: Available

Worth noting: Notre Dame beat Boston College, 95-53, on Jan. 9. ... Notre Dame post Natalie Achonwa is second in the ACC and fifth in the nation in field-goal shooting (.600 percent). ... The Irish have won 32 consecutive regular-season road games. ... Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Boston College, 13-5. ... Boston College is 4-4 vs. Notre Dame at Chestnut Hill ... Notre Dame whacked the Eagles, 102-54, on Nov. 23, 2008, in its last visit to BC. ... Notre Dame was 11-3 vs. Boston College when they were both members of the Big East. ... Notre Dame has won 10 of the last 12 meetings.

Worth quoting: "When you look at their scores, every team has great games in them. (BC) gave Duke a pretty good game for a while. They’re in the game all of the time.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Boston College