Hannah Huffman finds niche for Notre Dame women's basketball
It has taken Hannah Huffman more than two seasons to find her niche on the Notre Dame women's basketball team.
Accepting a bench role in college after she spent her prep career helping Carondelet High School become a northern California powerhouse was never going to be easy for the 5-food-9 junior guard from Diablo, Calif. But coming to Notre Dame, where her father Lon was a member of the men’s golf team in the mid 1980s, made things a little easier.
“It’s a matter of being locked in during practice so when you do get into the game, you are not taken aback, that you are not learning things in the game, because you already learned them in practice,” said Huffman, who looks to help the fourth-ranked Irish (14-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) break the NCAA Division I record for consecutive road wins with their 31st straight, Thursday at Miami (11-3, 1-0)..
“It’s also about paying attention when you are on the bench in the game, looking for openings on the floor that other people may not be seeing and paying attention in the huddle, things like that. But most of all, it’s about just being ready to go and doing what you know to contribute.”
When Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw needs someone who can get in the face of the other team’s scoring threat, or someone who can post up high against a zone defense and direct traffic, or someone who is quick enough to force a steal or someone to grab a key rebound, she often turns to Huffman.
That was never more evident than Sunday, when Notre Dame found itself in another ACC barnburner against an athletic Syracuse team on its own floor. McGraw turned to Huffman, who didn’t play a minute in Notre Dame’s league-opening 74-68 victory over Florida State last Friday, the only time in 15 games this season she spent the entire 40 minutes on the bench.
“It’s about controlling what you can control, and how many minutes I do or don’t get isn’t in my control,” Huffman said.
“I can do things in practice or when I do go in to increase or decrease my playing time. But ultimately it’s about what is going on that day and if I am needed. It’s a matter of me being ready and being able to go in there and make a difference, whether it’s for five minutes or for 25 minutes.”
You can make the case that the line Huffman produced off the bench against Syracuse in 19 minutes — six points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals against one personal foul and two turnovers — was as significant in Notre Dame’s 85-74 victory over the Orange as any of the lines of her much more heralded teammates, such as Jewell Loyd (25 points, six assists, four steals and two blocks) and Brianna Turner (20 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks).
You can be sure that McGraw noticed — against Syracuse and in other games the Irish have played this season.
“(Hannah) is more comfortable in the offense this season,” McGraw said. “She knows where she’s supposed to be and what she’s supposed to do. She’s playing with more confidence. Mentally, she’s made a giant improvement — she’s talking more, and she knows where she’s supposed to be. That’s the biggest thing.”
Huffman is averaging 4.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 14.1 minutes per game this season. She had a career-high 12 points against Harvard in 19 minutes; had three steals and four rebounds in 11 minutes when the foul-plagued Irish needed her against Michigan State; had eight points, three rebounds and three assists against a Chattanooga team that later upset Top-15 teams Tennessee and Stanford; had two points, three rebounds and four steals in a victory over Kansas; and had six points, three rebounds and a steal against Michigan.
All great moments, but Hannah Huffman, who has been to two Final Fours in her previous two seasons, wants more.
“We’ve had some good games, but truthfully I think the best is yet to come with this team,” she said. “I really don’t think I’ve had a favorite moment so far. I think one will be coming.”
WORTH NOTING: Notre Dame owns the nation’s longest active road winning streak of 30 after its 85-74 victory at Syracuse Sunday, and a victory against the Hurricanes would give Notre Dame the all-time road winning streak record (it currently shares the record of 30 with Connecticut). … Notre Dame has won 38 successive regular-season conference games through its memberships in the Big East and ACC, last losing on Feb. 12, 2012 to Big East foe West Virginia, 65-63. … Former All-America center Ruth Riley, who led the Irish to the national championship in 2001, is the color analyst for the ESPN3 broadcast. Riley, who is seeking an MBA at Notre Dame, usually is the color analyst for radio play-by-play voice Bob Nagle. … Notre Dame leads the overall series with Miami, 15-3, and is on a three-game series winning streak since losing 80-70 on Jan. 11, 2003 in South Bend when both schools were members of the Big East Conference. … The rivalry, dormant since a 93-58 Irish triumph in South Bend on Feb. 25, 2004, was renewed on Jan. 23, 2014 in South Bend, and the Irish beat Miami, 79-52, in the ACC matchup. … The Irish (No. 4 Associated Press media/No. 4 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/USA Today) are one of six ACC teams ranked, with Louisville (No. 6/7), North Carolina (No. 8/6), Duke (No. 13/12), Syracuse (No. 21/21) and Florida State (No. rv/22). … Notre Dame enters the game on a six-game winning streak, since losing to Connecticut, 76-58, on Dec. 6 in South Bend. ... Miami has won nine of its last 10 games, the loss coming 70-65 Dec. 19 in the championship of the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic in New Orleans. … Miami opened its ACC schedule with a 74-53 victory last Sunday over Boston College, Notre Dame’s opponent Jan. 11 at the Purcell Pavilion. … The Irish and Hurricanes each have beaten UCLA this season: Notre Dame beat the Bruins, 82-67, in Los Angeles on Dec. 28 and then followed the victory with ACC triumphs over Florida State (74-68 on Jan. 2) and Syracuse (85-74 on Jan. 4); Miami beat the Bruins, 74-67, in the opening game of the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic on Dec. 18. … Miami head coach Katie Meier, a head coach in the USA Basketball program, mentored Irish junior Michaela Mabrey with the USA U18 team and Irish freshman Brianna Turner with the USA U19 team. … In the latest NCAA team statistics, Notre Dame is third nationally in field-goal percentage (49.9), fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (39.9), fifth in points per game (85.7), sixth in scoring margin (+26.5 points per game), eighth in assists per game (18.5), 14th in free-throw shooting percentage (76.0), 22nd in blocked shots per game (5.5), 22nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.20) and 23rd in rebound margin per game (+9.3). … Individually, Brianna Turner is second nationally (and first in the ACC) in field-goal shooting (66.7) and is 19th nationally (third in the ACC) in blocked shots per game while Jewell Loyd is 14th nationally (and first in the ACC) in points per game (21.9). … Miami is 10th nationally (first in the ACC) in steals per game (12.5) and is 18th nationally (third in the ACC) in turnover margin per game (+6.21). … Sophomore guard Adrienne Motley has scored in double digits in 13 of Miami’s games this season, hitting 16 or more points 11 times, and she is 30th nationally (third in the ACC) in field-goal shooting percentage (53.8) and 20th (second in the ACC) in free-throw shooting percentage (89.4).
WORTH QUOTING: “(Miami is) another athletic team in the ACC. It seems like we say the same thing every game.” — Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.
WHO: No. 4/4 Notre Dame (14-1, 2-0 ACC) vs. Miami, Fla. (11-3, 1-0 ACC)
WHERE: BankUnited Center (7,900), Coral Gables, Fla.
WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.
TV: Streaming live on ESPN3/WatchEPSN (http://es.pn/1BoLTp4)
RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9)/WHPD-FM (92.1)