Irish get rematch with Hurricanes

Miami defeated ND in Coral Gables on Jan. 8

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

GREENSBORO, N.C. — There’s an old adage that you have to be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

Ever since its regular season ended with a 67-60 victory at North Carolina State Sunday, the second-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team has been collectively staring intensely at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament bracket, specifically the Nos. 8/9 matchup Thursday between Miami and Virginia.

Coach Muffet McGraw and her players have been saying all the right things about both teams, one of whom the top-seeded Irish (28-2) would face in Friday’s quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum. But the worse kept secret of this or any basketball season is that Notre Dame hoped for a rematch with the Hurricanes, who took a 78-63 decision the last time the teams met in Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 8, which seems like almost a decade ago considering the current 14-game Irish winning streak.

“I think,” McGraw said Sunday night, carefully measuring her words not to offend Virginia, “we’d like to have a chance to avenge that loss against Miami.”

Thursday afternoon, the Irish got their wish when Miami (19-11) used a 10-0 run midway through the second half to beat Virginia, 62-52, and set up today's 2 p.m. game with Notre Dame (28-2).

And truth be known, a rematch with Notre Dame is what the Hurricanes have wanted, too, though getting an NCAA tournament bid was a little higher on the wish list for coach Katie Meier. After the last meeting, Miami was 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the ACC and looked headed for great things. But the Hurricanes have gone just 7-8 since.

“Well, I thought our non-conference season was amazing,” Meier said, noting her team’s victories over UCLA, LSU and a close loss to Arizona State. “Then we beat some really high RPI opponents within this league and went .500. I honestly, personally think that’s enough, but I’m sure this win today should seal it for us. And if that doesn’t, then we’ve got to win our next game, and if we win our next game, they’d better invited us to this dance.”

And, of course, there’s that victory earlier this season against the opponent of that “next game” – Notre Dame.

“That was a beautiful game for us,” Meier said. “But I’m sure that Notre Dame saw the brackets come out and were hoping that we would win this game. I’m sure they were because they’re great competitors.”

That last time, you will remember, came a day after sophomore forward Taya Reimer was given leave by McGraw to deal with some “personal” issues. Reimer did not make the trip to Miami but did return to her teammates in time for an 89-79 win at No. 12 North Carolina and has steadily become a frontline factor, scoring in double digits in six of the 13 games she’s played and having 10 rebounds in an 88-77 victory over Tennessee on Jan. 19. In her last three games, Reimer has averaged 12 points and hit on 64 percent of her shots.

“This week in practice, Taya has really had great focus,” McGraw said. “She’s shown a lot of intensity and determination.”

Notre Dame didn’t have Reimer against the Hurricanes back in January and they also left their shooting eyes back in South Bend. Miami’s rugged man-to-man defense held the Irish field-goal percentage to 35.9 for the game, including 24 percent in the first half as Miami took a 40-20 lead at the intermission. ACC player of the year Jewell Loyd had 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting against the Hurricanes, while ACC freshman of the year Brianna Turner had 17 points and 10 boards.

“Our worst shooting effort of the season,” said McGraw, whose team is shooting 50.1 percent (second to Connecticut) from the floor, including 38 percent from beyond the 3-point line (eighth best). “Credit them for that. Miami is one of the more athletic teams in the league and they have a lot of versatility with their combinations.”

Miami is led by all-league sophomore guard Adrienne Motley, who scored 32 in the first meeting with Notre Dame and was averaging 16.9 points a game on almost 50-percent shooting (35.6 from beyond the 3-point line). She had 15 points and reserve Necole Sterling added 13 in the victory over Virginia Thursday. Meanwhile, the Irish need to also be wary of 6-foot-2 redshirt senior Jassany Williams, a shot-blocking specialist who had nine against Notre Dame and five against Virginia.

Reimer and Turner, though, have blocked shots (27 and 72, respectively) and changed many others. The Irish are clearly a better team that when they last played Miami.

“I like the way we’ve practiced,” said McGraw, who has shortened the team’s workouts of late. “We’re practicing with a lot more intensity.”

The Irish feel they have some unfinished business.

WORTH NOTING: Notre Dame dug itself a 20-point halftime hole and couldn’t extricate itself, dropping a 78-63 decision to the Hurricanes Jan. 8 in Coral Gables. Playing without forward Taya Reimer, who missed this game because of “personal reasons,” Notre Dame shot a season-low 35.9 percent. Adrienne Motley had 32 points, Suriya McGuire had 11 points and Jassany Williams blocked nine shots to lead the Hurricanes, while Jewell Loyd had 17 points and Brianna Turner had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Notre Dame’s current 14-game winning streak began after the setback. … The loss is the only one the Irish have suffered in their two seasons in the ACC. Last season, Notre Dame went 16-0 during the regular season and won its three tournament games. This season, Notre Dame finished the regular season at 15-1 for its second straight outright ACC regular-season title. … Overall, Notre Dame maintains a 15-4 edge in the series with Miami. … The current No. 2 ranking by the Irish is its highest this season since just before its 76-58 loss to now No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 6 at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame was No. 2 in the Associated Press media poll before the game and fell to fifth. In the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/USA Today poll, ND was No. 1 and fell to No. 4. … It’s the fourth straight year Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed in its conference tournament (the first two came when the Irish were members of the Big East Conference) and it’s the ninth time the team has done it in the 28-year tenure of Muffet McGraw as head coach. ... Notre Dame is ranked in the Top 10 nationally in several categories: field-goal shooting (50.1 percent, second); scoring offense (82.6 points per game, fourth); scoring margin (+22.7 points, fourth); assists (18.6 per game, sixth); and 3-point shooting (38.0 percent). … Individually, Loyd is No. 1 in scoring in the ACC at 20.7 points per game, sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen is pacing the ACC in assists per game at 5.2 and Turner leads not only the ACC but the NCAA in field-goal shooting at 68.1 percent.

WORTH QUOTING: “Being able to avenge a loss is always something good. I would like to see that. But we have to be ready. We just can’t go in and think that just because they beat us (back in January) that we will be ready this time.” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on her team’s rematch with Miami, which beat the Irish earlier this season, 78-63.

Notre Dame forward Taya Reimer (12) brings the ball up as Pittsburgh forward Monica Wignot (24) gives chase during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

WHAT: 38th Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament

WHO: No. 2/2 Notre Dame (28-2 overall, 15-1 ACC regular season) vs. Miami, Fla. (19-11, 8-8 ACC regular season)

WHERE: Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum (13,000).

WHEN: Friday at 2 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ACC-Regional Sports Networks, including Comcast Cable Ch. 101 in South Bend and several FOX regional sports channels; ESPN3 with the WatchESPN app.

RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9), WHPD-FM (92.1), watchND.tv

LIVE STATS: und.com, theacc.com