Women's basketball rivalry continues with twist for Notre Dame, Maryland

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

You will have to excuse coach Muffet McGraw and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team if they feel a little like strangers in a strange land Wednesday night.

The Irish will be playing in the 13,000-seat Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne as the home team, 87 miles from their actual home floor at the Purcell Pavilion. And if that isn’t strange enough, the opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Women’s Challenge game at 7 p.m. is Maryland.

When you think about college basketball and Maryland, you think Atlantic Coast Conference, right? Didn’t Notre Dame say thank you but no to the Big Ten years ago only to join the ACC before last season in all sports other than football and hockey? So if Notre Dame is in the ACC, that means its opponent, Maryland, is in the Big Ten?

Welcome to College Sports 2014 when, apparently, if you beat them – Maryland was 7-0 against the Big Ten in the Women’s Challenge series before this season – you can now join them.

So now it’s the Irish, whose 7-0 start has them ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press media poll and No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll, in the ACC and Maryland, 6-1 and ranked No. 15 and No. 10, respectively, in the Big Ten.

Strange, indeed.

Even McGraw admits she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the Big Ten logo on Maryland’s court while doing some scouting with her staff. She liked the nice rivalry the Irish had going with Brenda Frese’s Terrapins, who played the Irish tough during an ACC regular-season game at College Park last January, losing 87-83, but then getting run out of the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., by the Irish in an 87-61 setback in the NCAA semifinals April 6.

“It’s a shame they left the league,” McGraw said. “I think this would have been a great ACC rivalry. But it is (still) a big rivalry for us, especially for (point guard) Lindsay Allen.”

Allen hails from Mitchellville, Md., 12 miles from College Park, and played her basketball at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., but didn’t have the Terrapins among her top five schools before she chose Notre Dame. Strange?

“Maybe it’s a little special because it’s the home-state team but that’s about it,” said Allen, a 5-foot-7 sophomore who has been asked by the staff to shoot more while also being the on-court director and vocal leader. “Nothing against their players and coaches – for me, it’s another team we’re trying to beat.”

While her scoring output – 8.4 points a game – hasn’t showed it because she’s averaged just 22.7 minutes a game in Notre Dame’s season-opening 7-0 start, Allen has been more aggressive going to the basket. She is shooting just under 60 percent from the field and grabbing 4.0 rebounds a game while leading the ACC with a 4.29 assist/turnover ratio (she has a team-high 30 assists with just seven turnovers).

“Last year, I deferred to Kayla (McBride), Natalie (Achonwa) and Jewell (Loyd),” Allen continued. “But this year the coaches have talked to me about looking for my shot even more. So early in games, I am looking for opportunities to shoot more.”

McGraw likes what she sees. “She’s doing her job in so many ways – rebounding, running the team – and now she’s looking to score more,” she said.

Maryland, 6-1 after a 70-64 loss to Washington State last Saturday at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico, is led by redshirt senior guard Laurin Mincy, who is averaging 14.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Sophomore guard Lexie Brown averages 12.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists with 16 steals and sophomore guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is averaging 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. Up front, 6-foot-3 sophomore Brionna Jones is averaging 11.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while 6-4 junior Malina Howard is at 6.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.

“Their guard play has been exceptional,” McGraw said, “and they have some really good post players. Jones played well against us in the Final Four. She’s a strong presence inside. Any one of their players is capable of stepping up and scoring 20 points, so we’re going to have to play great team defense. We’re looking forward to a good test. Both of us are trying to find out where we are right now.”

As teams, of course. That has remained constant.

Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen moves by Harvard’s Shilpa Tummala, left, during the Notre Dame-Harvard NCAA women's basketball game on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

WHO: Notre Dame (7-0) vs. Maryland (6-1)

WHERE: Allen County War Memorial Coliseum (13,000), Fort Wayne, Ind.

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: None. Game is available live streaming at ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.

RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9)/WHPD-FM (92.1)

WORTH NOTING: The Irish will be seeking their 60th straight regular-season victory. … This is also considered a Notre Dame home game, the first off-site home game in the 38-year history of the women’s program. The Irish have a 33-game home win streak, currently the longest in the nation. … Maryland is 7-0 in previous games in the ACC/Big Ten Women’s Challenge, all seven of the victories coming as a member of the ACC; Notre Dame is 1-0 after its 77-67 victory last Dec. 4 at Penn State. … This is the ninth meeting between the two teams with the series tied 4-4 but Notre Dame has won the last three including an 87-61 victory over the Terrapins in last season’s NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinals April 6 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. … Next up for the Irish is Saturday’s Jimmy V Women’s Classic game with Connecticut in the Purcell Pavilion at 3:15 p.m. on ESPN. ... This is the second week the Irish have been ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press media and No. 1 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/USA Today polls. … South Carolina leads the AP poll with 854 points, 9 more than Notre Dame and 66 more than third-place Connecticut with Maryland 15th.