Notebook: Infusion of talent will keep ND women on track

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

TAMPA, Fla. – Pretty good when a Notre Dame women’s basketball team built for a national title run in 2016 can play for a championship in 2015.

It’s called program stability.

With all key players anticipated to return – and three McDonald’s All Americans added to the program – the Irish will be stocked for success next season.

There will be some critical personnel situations that will have to work themselves out if Notre Dame harbors any thoughts of scaling the mountain called Connecticut.

• As of Monday, Madison Cable was maintaining her silence on returning for a fifth year of eligibility next season. How she’s able to hold up physically may be the only obvious obstacle that could come between her and a return.

• Kristina Nelson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, needs to be an impact component on the post. Sidelined this season to rehab a shoulder injury, Nelson has been a project for assistant coach Carol Owens. During Saturday’s open practice, it was obvious Nelson’s mobility is much better than it had been earlier in her Notre Dame career. The Irish have signed three All-American guards – Arike Ogunbowale (5-9 point guard), Ali Patberg (5-11 wing) and Marina Mabrey (5-10 wing). If Nelson can return and be a factor, she would be like a fourth recruit with three years of eligibility.

• Freshman post Brianna Turner learned some valuable lessons this season. She got a taste of the physical side of the college game and the grind of such a long season. Next year will be her opportunity to emerge as a dominant force.

• Put Turner and Taya Reimer together, with Kathryn Westbeld and Nelson coming off the bench, and the Irish may finally answer the size issues that have plagued them for so long.

Hoosier hospitality

Notre Dame fans, get your reservations in early.

If the Irish are able to negotiate the choppy waters of next year’s NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight Final Four appearance, they will have a short drive down U.S. 31 to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The games will be played Sunday, April 3, and Tuesday, April 5. Unlike this year, there won’t be any Final Four conflicts with Easter next year. Easter, 2016, is on March 27.

Regional sites for next season are also set. Feeding into Indianapolis will be tournaments at Bridgeport, Conn., Lexington, Ky., Dallas, and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Looking easy

Offense sells, when it comes to the popularity of women’s basketball.

That’s why Connecticut and Notre Dame get so much attention.

Of course, winning doesn’t hurt, either.

Maybe there’s a correlation there?

Anyway, the Irish and the Huskies are among the best in the country, in terms of putting the ball in the basket.

Connecticut leads the nation in scoring average (89.9 points) and field goal percentage (54.3). Notre Dame is fourth in scoring (80.6) and second in shooting (49.6).

“In any sport, people are drawn to players who make things look easy; five players who pass the ball to each other, cut, help each other get open, get an open shot, and knock it in,” said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. “That draws people like, ‘Wow, how did they do that?’ Or, ‘I like the way they do that.’”

What's different?

One of the biggest differences with this year’s Notre Dame team, compared to last year’s national runner-up, is the lack of dynamic personalities.

“(Natalie Achonwa) and (Kayla McBride) were very honest,” junior Michaela Mabrey said of last year’s seniors. “They weren’t afraid of saying what needed to be said in any situation.

“We lost that a little bit this year. None of us have a personality like either one of them. People saw that as a problem, but we’ve stepped up to be leaders in different ways. Everyone has stepped up in different ways to fill the leadership role.”

Quite a different situation. But it’s the results that count.

Freshman Brianna Turner (left), her guarding national Player of the Year Breanna Stewart of UConn, should be a key figure for Notre Dame in 2015-16. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)