Senior Whitney Holloway is Notre Dame's most valuable practice player
SOUTH BEND — For four seasons that she admits have gone by far too quickly, Whitney Holloway’s best work for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team has come behind the curtains at the Purcell Pavilion.
When Notre Dame practices behind those curtains, the 5-foot-4 senior point guard and tri-captain has maybe been Notre Dame’s MVPP – Most Valuable Practice Player.
Ask those Holloway has guarded in practice – an impressive group that includes All-Americans Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd to name just a few – and they likely will tell you that Holloway is as tough as any guard they have gone against when the curtains are open and crowds are packed around the Irish home court.
For Holloway, a Chicagoland native from Plainfield, Ill.,who led Montini Catholic High School to a pair of Illinois 3-A state titles in 2010 and ’11, it seems like stepping on campus at Notre Dame is closer than her graduation day this May 17 when she will receive a degree in psychology. When Holloway takes the floor with Madison Cable and Markisha Wright for Senior Night Thursday at 7 against Pittsburgh as a starter for the first time, it will make all that hard work worthwhile.
“They always say that college goes really, really fast,” Holloway said, “but you don’t realize it until you go through it. It’s been amazing, all the friendships you make with your teammates and the coaches.”
Holloway, Wright and Cable are rewriting the Notre Dame record book with the help of their talented underclass teammates. The trio has been to three straight Final Fours and compiled an overall record of 133-9, second only to the 138-16 record compiled by McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker through the end of last season. The Holloway-Wright-Cable trio’s .937 winning percentage is far and away the best of any four-year class during head coach Muffet McGraw’s 28 seasons in South Bend.
Thursday at 6:45 p.m., the trio will be recognized for their efforts and McGraw then will keep a promise she has made to every player who has stayed and played for four years for her at Notre Dame – Holloway, Wright and Cable will get to start their final regular-season home game. The gesture hasn’t gone unnoticed by Holloway.
“I feel fortunate to have had the chance to play for a Hall of Fame coach,” Holloway said.
And that Hall of Fame coach feels fortunate to have been around Holloway.
“Whitney has a smile that lights up the whole Purcell Pavilion every day,” McGraw said. “She brings energy to practice. She brings a lot of defensive intensity – she can get up and really guard the ball.”
Loyd, whose relationship with Holloway goes back to their days in the same AAU summer basketball backcourt, credits her as the reason she came to Notre Dame to play. Because of their on-court relationships, their families have grown very close and Loyd admits it’s going to be difficult seeing Holloway, Cable and Wright go — though Cable has a potential year of eligibilty remaining.
“But it’s part of life,” the junior All-American said. “You see them grow up and you’ve got to let them go. Obviously, it’s hard to see them go. But the season’s not over yet. It’s the last time they may play on this floor but that’s all the more reason why we should play harder, to play with more motivation.”
Coming into the season, Holloway had played in 90 games during her career, averaging 1.5 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.18. Most of her career highlights came during her sophomore year when she had career highs of 15 points and four steals in a victory over Alabama A&M, had a career-high five assists in a victory over Providence and a career-high four rebounds twice (against Marquette her freshman year and Utah State as a sophomore).
This year, because of a foot injury, Holloway has played in only 11 games, scored in just five, including a season-high five against Quinnipiac, and is averaging 1.2 points, 0.6 rebounds and 9,5 assists with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.50.
“She’s so fiery when she comes out on the floor,'' McGraw said. "She’ll take charges. She’ll do whatever she can do to help the team. She’s always encouraging the other players when they go into games. She just has so much energy and we missed that when she couldn’t practice.”
A successful conclusion of the regular season – Notre Dame concludes the regular season Sunday afternoon at North Carolina State – and another high finish in the ACC Tournament likely will provide the Irish additional opportunities to play at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame is one of 20 teams that could be among the 16 that will host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games in mid March.
A fitting home finish for a senior class that has won McGraw’s heart.
“Maddy just goes 100 percent all the time,” McGraw said. “She will run through a wall and she will do absolute anything to help the team win. And ‘Kisha has been a worker for us. She’s a great screener – the guards love playing for her because she sets great screens. She’ll take a charge. She’s such a team player.”
It's a common trait for this trio.
WORTH NOTING: It’s Senior Night when the team honors its graduating senior class – players Whitney Holloway, Markisha Wright and Madison Cable and manager Giuliana Figliomeni – and a brief pre-game ceremony is scheduled to start at 6:45 p.m. … The players have played for teams with an overall mark of 133-9 (.937) with three straight Women’s Final Four appearances. Only last season’s senior class of Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride have compiled a better four-year mark (138-16, .902). … Notre Dame is 31-6 (.838) on Senior Night and has won 24 of its last 26. … A victory would clinch a second straight ACC regular-season title ... Notre Dame holds a 22-3 series lead, including 10-0 in South Bend. … Notre Dame is No. 1 in the latest RPI rankings and Pittsburgh is No. 33. … Notre Dame enters the game with a 12-game winning streak … Pittsburgh has won five of its last seven but lost its last game, 68-54, at No. 25 Syracuse. … Six-foot-3 graduate student Monica Wignot, playing her first season at Pittsburgh after spending four seasons on the Pitt volleyball team, had 14 points, four assists and two blocks in the loss at Syracuse. Wignot, whose mother Therese played on Muffet McGraw’s first Lehigh team back in 1982-83, has 71 blocks … Five-foot-7 senior point guard Brianna Kiesel is one of 15 finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the nation’s top point guard. She leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.38), is second in assists per game (4.7), steals per game (2.22) and free-throw shooting (86.2 percent), and fourth in scoring at 18.0 points per game. … Sophomore guard Chelsea Welch was a high school teammate of Notre Dame freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld at Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio. … Jewell Loyd leads the ACC in scoring at 21.0 points per game; sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen is first in assists per game at 5.1 and second in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.10; Brianna Turner leads the ACC and nation in field-goal shooting at 66.8 percent … As a team, Notre Dame is first in the ACC in the following categories: field-goal shooting (49.5 percent, third NCAA), points per game (83.0, fourth NCAA), margin of victory (+23.1, fifth NCAA), assists per game (18.5, sixth NCAA), 3-point shooting (38.2, eighth NCAA) and personal fouls per game (14.6, 20th NCAA); Pitt is second in the ACC in field-goal shooting defense (35.6 percent).
WHO: No. 4/4 Notre Dame (26-2 overall, 13-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Pittsburgh (18-9 overall, 8-6 ACC)
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), South Bend
WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.
TV: None, ESPN3 and via WatchESPN app
RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9), WHPD-FM (92.1), watchnd.tv
LIVE STATS: und.com