Loaded hoops schedule awaits Irish women

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Muffet McGraw sort of knew what to expect when the Notre Dame women’s basketball coach got her first official glimpses of freshmen Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld in action.

Reality apparently trumped perception in this case.

“I’m really excited about this freshman class,” McGraw said Tuesday. “But the other two look really good. They both have such bright futures. They will definitely contribute.”

There doesn't appear, though, to be much of an easing-in period for them.

Notre Dame released its women’s basketball schedule Tuesday, and the 2013-14 national runners-up play 15 games against 14 teams that made last spring’s national tournament.

That includes games against Final Four foe Maryland and national champion Connecticut three days apart.

The ESPN family of networks will televise eight of the games, including the UConn matchup on Dec. 6. Notre Dame will stream all of its home games not chosen for commercial broadcast live and free of charge through the official Fighting Irish multimedia platform, WatchND (watchnd.tv).

Other non-conference games include Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State and UCLA. The Irish host Ferris State Nov. 5 in an exhibition game before opening for real at Purcell Pavilion against UMass-Lowell on Nov. 14.

“I think it’s important to challenge yourself early to find out what your weaknesses are, so you can fix them by the time you get to conference play,” McGraw said. “And so we try to play a difficult schedule.

“I don’t think you learn as much about your team when you win by 30 as you can in a really challenging game. Preseason is supposed to prepare us for conference, and conference prepares us for the NCAAs.”

The Irish are 81-4 at home since the 2009-10, and will play Maryland in an off-site home game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That game will be Dec. 3 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.

It will be the first time since the program’s debut in 1977-78 that the Fighting Irish will play a home game outside of Purcell Pavilion. A conflict with the men’s team playing Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge led to the change of venues.

“We would have been happy to play a doubleheader that day, but we weren’t allowed,” McGraw said. “We were willing to move to Tuesday (Dec. 2), but we weren’t allowed do to that either. Thursday didn’t work for us, because it was too close to the Connecticut game and that didn’t seem like enough time to prepare.

“We wanted to go to Fort Wayne, because the men had such a great experience there in the NIT (2004 vs. St. Louis). (ND coach) Mike Brey said it was a great venue.”

In the ACC, the Irish play 16 games, two each against Boston College and Georgia Tech and one against the other 12 league teams, including newcomer Louisville.

Irish items

• Freshman Mychal Johnson hasn’t been able to participate in the NCAA-allowable small group workouts because of patellar tendinitis. She is expected to be cleared sometime next week.

• McGraw was in Los Angeles Tuesday on a recruiting trip, getting her first look at the junior class this fall.

The Irish still haven’t finished with the seniors, with the early signing period in November. Verbally committed so far are Marina Mabrey, a 5-9 guard from Belmar, N.J., and younger sister of Irish junior guard Michaela Mabrey; and Ali Patberg, a 5-9 guard from Columbus, Ind.

Very much in play is standout point guard prospect Arike Ogunbowale from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee. Ogunbowale visited the Notre Dame campus this past weekend. All three prospects are rated among the top 25 nationally by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.

2014-15 NOTRE DAME WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

NOVEMBER

5: FERRIS STATE (exh.) 7 p.m.; 14: UMASS-LOWELL 6 p.m.; 19: at Michigan State TBA; 21: CHATTANOOGA 5 p.m.; 23: HOLY CROSS^ 5 p.m.; 24: HARVARD^ 6 p.m.; 25: QUINNIPIAC^ 6 p.m.; 30: Kansas% 1 p.m.

DECEMBER

3: MARYLAND& 7 p.m.; 6: CONNECTICUT 3:15 p.m.; 10 at DePaul TBA; 13: MICHIGAN 1 p.m.; 21: SAINT JOSEPH’S PA. 1 p.m.; 28: at UCLA TBA

JANUARY

2: FLORIDA STATE 7 p.m.; 4: at Syracuse 1 p.m.; 8: at Miami 7 p.m.; 11: BOSTON COLLEGE 1 p.m.; 15: at North Carolina 7 p.m.; 19: TENNESSEE 7 p.m.; 22: GEORGIA TECH 7 p.m.; 24: at Clemson 5 p.m.; 29: at Virginia Tech 7 p.m.

FEBRUARY

1: WAKE FOREST 1 p.m.; 5: VIRGINIA 7 p.m.; 8 at Boston College 1 p.m.; 16: DUKE 9 p.m.; 19: at Georgia Tech 7 p.m.; 23: LOUIISVILLE 7 p.m.; 26: PITTSBURGH 7 p.m.

MARCH

1: at North Carolina State 2 p.m. 4-8: ACC Tournament* TBA; March 20-April 7: NCAA Tournament TBA.

^Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge

%At Uncasville, Conn.

&At Fort Wayne, Ind.

*At Greensboro, N.C.

Muffet McGraw and the Notre Dame women's basketball team faces a challenging 2014-15 schedule that includes a return of perennial power Connecticut. (SBT File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)