Notre Dame women's bull’s-eye just keeps growing

South Bend Tribune

As Notre Dame zeroes in on the regular-season league title in its first season in the ACC, opponents are focusing on the Irish with more intensity.

Owning a two-game lead with four games left, Notre Dame has already clinched a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, which tips off March 5 in Greensboro, N.C. The Irish wouldn’t play their first game until March 7.

On Thursday, the No. 2-ranked Irish (25-0, 12-0) face a road test at Wake Forest (14-11, 5-7), a team that owns a stunning 78-54 upset of then-No. 23 Florida State on Feb. 2. The Demon Deacons have won three of their last four games.

“We’ve played well with a target on our back,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “It gets bigger every game. It’s not something we’re talking about. We’re just trying to go out and play our game and not worry about the other team as much as worry about ourselves.

“I’m really happy with where we are. We’re doing a lot of great things. We’re playing well. There are still some things we can tighten up. We can always get better rebounding and defensively. I’m just really pleased to be sitting where we are at the end of February.”

McGraw said that playing in the ACC means a tough shot each game out.

“I think the ACC is the best league in women’s basketball, and every team comes in with that kind of intensity, especially when they’re playing us, because it’s a chance to beat a top team,” McGraw said. “Everybody is gunning for us. We have a big target on our backs. We expect to take everybody’s best shot.”

Wake Forest boasts one of the ACC’s top 1-2 punches in Dearica Hamby and Chelsea Douglas.

Hamby, who leads the ACC in scoring (21.5) and rebounding (11.0), reached the 1,000-point plateau in Wake Forest’s last game, a 65-64 victory over Virginia Tech. A 6-foot-3 junior forward, Hamby has 19 double-doubles this season, one shy of the program record.

Douglas, a 5-5 senior guard, averages 18.8 points. Douglas, who scored 48 points against Florida International on Dec. 29, missed the Demon Deacons’ last game with a foot injury, and her status for the Irish is uncertain.

“Hamby is a player who is really crafty,” McGraw said. “She scores a lot inside. She can drive the ball. She can shoot the perimeter shot as well. She reminds me a little bit of (former Notre Dame player) Becca Bruszewski. She has great hands inside. She just plays really hard.

“Douglas is an outstanding shooter from long-range. Hamby and Douglas give Wake Forest a really strong inside-outside game.”

McGraw said that one of the keys for the Irish will be the play of freshman point guard Lindsay Allen.

Allen is hitting 54 percent of her field-goal attempts, including 13-of-27 from 3-point range. She has dished out a team-high 97 assists and has 31 steals, second on the team.

“(ND assistant) Niele Ivey and I were just talking about how well Lindsay’s playing, her floor game in the last game against Georgia Tech, how coachable she is, how smart she is,” McGraw said. “She just keeps getting better. She’s able to take in a lot of information, and she remembers everything. I don’t think we’ve ever had a freshman who has played this well in a long time.

“She came in very skilled, with her ball-handling and her passing. She really worked on her shot. We didn’t know how much she would be able to handle in terms of running the team, but she’s over-achieved there. She’s exceeded our expectations. In big games, she is fearless. She can put the turnover behind her and move on. She has a great demeanor for the point guard position.”

Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen (15) is hitting 54 percent of her field goal attempts, including 13-of-27 from 3-point range. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (25-0, 12-0 Acc) vs. Wake Forest (14-11, 5-7)

WHERE: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum (14,665), Winston-Salem, N.C.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: None locally

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9, 92.1)

ONLINE: www.und.com

WORTH NOTING: Notre Dame is 1-0 all-time vs. Wake Forest. ... The Irish beat the Demon Deacons 92-69 on Nov. 27, 2010. ... Notre Dame is 16-2 all-time against teams from North Carolina. ... Irish post Natalie Achonwa leads the team with six double-doubles. ... Kayla McBride is averaging 5.2 assists a game in her last five games ... Taya Reimer is hitting .704 percent of her shots (19-of-27) in her last six games. ... Michaela Mabrey is the first Notre Dame player with more than 50 3-pointers (52) since Ashley Barlow in the 2009-2010 season. ... Notre Dame has won 48 consecutive regular season games and 33 consecutive regular season road games, both program records. ... Notre Dame has been in the Associated Press Top 25 for 132 consecutive weeks, dating back to the 2007-08 season. ... The Irish have been ranked in the AP Top 10 for the last 62 weeks.

WORTH QUOTING: “The post players really have to play well defensively. We have to be able to take care of the boards.” — Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw