Hostile arena will test Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Taya Reimer has a pocketful of tasks on her agenda Saturday.

The junior on Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team knows she will be back to playing when the Irish visit South Dakota State and Frost Arena Saturday at 3 p.m. She also knows she has to continue to focus on “getting back to our scheme, I am a little rusty,” she said, referring to her early season absence from effects of last year’s Achilles heel injury.

Reimer scored eight points in 16 minutes in her first action of the season, Wednesday night at home against Toledo. But she also knows she and her fellow upperclassmen have to work with the freshmen (Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale) to “stay focused, stay in sync'' and play their own game.

"I would only tell them to follow what we do normally,” she added. “They need to not overthink it. Just try to think of it as a home game.”

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw talked about the away game at South Dakota State even before the season started.

“I think it is a tough arena to play in,'' she said. "But I like that. We need to be tested in road games and by hostile road crowds. We need to use that to gain experience for what we might see in March.”

The Jackrabbits, members of the Summit League, like to schedule strong opponents.

They, like the Irish are 2-0. They beat Arkansas earlier this week. Other strong basketball programs on their schedule this season include Pittsburgh, Maryland and DePaul. South Dakota State has won 12 consecutive home games.

Reimer’s return helps boost the Irish inside game and the team’s overall confidence as well.

“It’s exciting definitely,'' Reimer said. "It feels good to be back on the court. Right now is the most pain free I have felt in a long time – so that is good.”

Coach Aaron Johnston, in his 16th year at South Dakota State, likely will start a lineup that includes no seniors. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer in the early season has been Macy Miller, a 6-foot sophomore, averaging 25 points a game. Clarissa Ober, at 6-foot-2, is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.5 per game. Miller scored 31 points in the victory over Arkansas.

Madison Cable is Notre Dame's leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points, while sophomore Briann Turner is at 13 per game per game and classmate Kathryn Westbeld averages 11. This is only the second meeting between the two schools. Notre Dame won the last meeting at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 2, 2014, 94-51.

“We will have to concentrate and just focus on our game,” Reimer said. “It’s great to play other places with big crowds. We just need to match their energy.''

“This will be the first hostile arena we play in,” said McGraw. "We need to get our freshmen adjusted to playing on the road.”

Those two freshmen, Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, have performed well in the first two home games. Obunbowale is averaging nine points a game, and Mabrey averages 11.

Following Saturday’s game against South Dakota State the Irish will travel to Valparaiso for a Monday night matchup, and then have a short break before playing Denver for the first time in school history in the opening round of the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas.

Notre Dame forward Taya Reimer will have to be big Saturday when the Irish get tested on the road against South Dakota State.SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

• WHO: Notre Dame (2-0) vs. South Dakota State (2-0)

• WHERE: Frost Arena, Brookings, S.D. (6,100)

• WHEN: Saturday at 3 pm (EST)

• ON-LINE: ESPN3/WatchESPN/Midco Sports Network

•  RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend, WatchND (audio only)

GAME NOTES

NOTRE DAME: The Fighting Irish have allowed just 93 points thus far, the third-lowest total through the opening two games of a season in program history ... Including this week’s No. 3 ranking, Notre Dame has appeared in the Associated Press poll for 157 consecutive weeks ... Notre Dame will be playing in the state of South Dakota for the first time since Jan. 14, 1980, when it dropped a 76-61 decision to South Dakota in Vermillion during Notre Dame’s final season as a Division III program ... Notre Dame has won 45 of its last 46 road games.

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE: South Dakota State is ranked No. 10 in the CollegeInsider Mid-Major poll ... The Jackrabbits are 42-10 in games against teams from Indiana ... The last time SDSU opened the season 3-0 was 2008-09 when it won at Missouri and defeated Wisconsin, Utah and Oregon in Frost Arena. The Jackrabbits finished that season 32-3 ... When South Dakota State played at Notre Dame in 2014, the Irish were ranked No. 2 in the nation. It was the highest rated team the Jackrabbits had ever met.