Notre Dame women must ramp up intensity vs. Toledo

Ken Climek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – Muffet McGraw, the Notre Dame women's basketball coach, calls it “Game mode,'' a time when the Irish have a stretch of several games with little time to prepare before each contest.

The second of four games in eight days will be played at 7 p.m. Wednesday when Toledo visits the Irish at the Joyce Center at Purcell Pavilion. After tonight's contest, the Irish go on the road to meet South Dakota State Saturday and Valparaiso on Monday.

The Irish (1-0) defeated Bucknell, 85-54, Sunday while the Rockets of Coach Tricia Cullop lost, 62-59, to visiting Arizona

“We really have only one day to prepare for them,” said McGraw. “And that will mostly be watching film.”

Despite that 31-point opening victory, McGraw wants more effort and more consistency from her players.

“I want them (the players) to understand that it is not the margin of victory, but about focus and intensity.”

Having been to the Final Four five straight years, McGraw wants her team to know how hard it is to get there.

“I don't want them to just think it will happen again without putting the work in,” she said. “I don't think our players know the struggle. I don't think they know how hard players like Skylar Diggins worked to get us there. It is always the good players who put the work in.”

Toledo is considered a contender in the Mid-America Conference this season, and Cullop, in her eighth season with the Rockets, has led her team to a 3-1 record against Atlantic Coast Conference teams in past years.

Toledo and Notre Dame have met six times before. The series is tied at 3-3. The last time they met ended in a Notre Dame victory, 68-52, at Toledo, in 1999.

With Brianna Turner inside and court-savvy Madison Cable outside (and around the basket), the Irish have plenty of firepower and offensive balance. All five of the starters against Bucknell, including Michaela Mabrey, Lindsay Allen and Kathryn Westbeld are capable of double-figure outputs. Add to that mix freshmen Marina Mabrey, who scored 16 points in 21 minutes against Bucknell, and Arike Ogunbowale, who added nine in 17 minutes, and the Irish proficiency offensively is evident.

When junior Taya Reimer, who has not played yet this year, returns full strength, the Irish can be even more difficult to defend.

Toledo offers some offensive balance as well. In the relatively low-scoring, narrow loss to Arizona senior Brenae Harris led Toledo with 12 points and four assists, followed by junior Sophie Reecher and sophomore Jada Woody with 11 points each. Redshirt freshman Mikaela Boyd added nine points off the bench.

The Rockets are young, but their expectations are high.

“Our goal is to compete for a MAC championship every year," said Cullop recently.

She ranks fourth in league history in overall (160-74, .684) winning percentage and sixth in conference (84-32, .724) winning percentage.

"That (goal) doesn't change from year to year,” she added.

Despite having only two seniors on the roster, Toledo has 75.5 percent of its scoring back from a year ago, and nearly 81 percent of its rebounding. Toledo was 19-14 last season. The Rockets are hoping to claim a third MAC title in the last six years.

Rebounding will be stressed by the Irish after coming up on the short end of a 44-33 margin on the boards against Bucknell.

ND Associate Head Coach Niele Ivey said of Toledo, “They are a very disciplined team. They are a hard-nosed group. We need to lock in (defensively) on their scorers.”

Jay-Ann Bravo Harriott is one Toledo scorer the Irish will need to focus on. She scored 30 against Eastern Michigan in the MAC tourney competition last March.

Notre Dame players huddle on the court before an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame 1-0 vs. Toledo 0-1

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available by calling (574) 631-7356, going online to UND.com/buytickets or visiting Gate 9 ticket windows today.

TV: ESPN3/WatchESPN appNone. Game can be seen online at WatchND.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend