Notre Dame women return home to host dangerous DePaul

Ken Klimek Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Connecticut did not ruin Muffet McGraw’s 60th birthday Saturday when the Huskies handed Notre Dame its first loss of the season.

“I celebrated Sunday,” she said with a laugh, “and had a really good day.”

The Notre Dame women’s basketball coach will be looking for another good day Wednesday when No. 18 DePaul visits the Joyce Center at 7 p.m. — the 42nd meeting between the two teams. Notre Dame owns a 22-19 edge and has won the last seven in the series.

“We have played them forever,” said McGraw. “I think we were in the North Star Conference when we started (both teams were in that league from 1983-'88).''

DePaul is just another strong opponent in a recent difficult stretch for the Irish.

“We are trying to play as many good teams as we can,'' McGraw noted. "I didn’t realize we would be playing four ranked teams in a row.”

Previously, Notre Dame has beaten No. 20 UCLA and No. 10 Ohio State, before falling by 10 to Connecticut. But the Irish retained their No. 3 ranking nationally, one slot ahead of Baylor.

Wednesday’s contest certainly is not expected to be a cakewalk.

DePaul is dangerous. McGraw expects to see the Demons toss up 25-to-30 3-point attempts.

"They like the up-tempo game,'' she said, "and they are hard to guard.”

Veteran coach Doug Bruno, in his 30th season at DePaul, is 6-2 with the losses coming only in reasonably close games against No. 1 Connecticut (86-70) and No. 4 Baylor (86-72).

One pleasant surprise for the Irish, helping to offset the loss of Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer for much of the early season, has been the play of freshmen Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale. Mabrey, who scored 23 points against UConn, is averaging 14.3 points, the same average Turner had before she injured her shoulder two weeks ago.

“It’s great for Marina and Arike to get quality minutes in big games,” said McGraw. “They are learning so much. Both came in with a lot of confidence, but both are only scratching the surface.”

"Coach has helped me get the things I accomplished,” said Mabrey. “She has found a place for me and gives me a lot of confidence.

Described as a player with swagger, likened even to Skylar Diggins, Mabrey said, “I have always been like that. I have always been competitive. It’s a family with five children. Whoever wanted the most rice at dinner had to be aggressive,” she joked.

“She is very feisty,'' McGraw added. "She typifies what I expect a Jersey (Belmar) guard to play like. I love her attitude.''

Grad student Madison Cable leads the Irish with 16.5 points a game, and has drawn a lot of praise from McGraw for her transformation from role player a year ago to a leader this year. Sophomore Kathryn Westbeld is at 11.3 points and Ogunbowale 10.0. Junior point guard Lindsay Allen always capable of big offensive numbers, scores at a 9.1 clip.

Without Turner, and possibly without Reimer again, the Irish will go with a four-guard offense, the same as they did against Connecticut.

“We just have to rebound better,'' McGraw said. "We’d still like to go inside more, the guards are really good. We are playing to our strength now.''

“Kathryn (Westbeld) is having a great year,” said McGraw of her likely only starter in the post. “We haven’t given her many opportunities because we have been shooting the three so well. She had (minor knee) surgery over the summer and is playing the most minutes of her career (25.5). We would like to rest her a bit more.”

But it is not likely there will be many opportunities to rest against the frenetic Blue Demons. Their press forced 42 turnovers in a recent game, so the Irish will have to protect the ball to be able to notch their eight victory Wednesday night.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (2) brings the ball up the court on Ohio State’s Asia Doss (20) as Marina Mabrey (3) trails the play Wednesday, December 2, 2015, during the Ohio State-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. No. 18 DePaul (6-2)

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m. (EST)

WHERE: Joyce Center at Purcell Pavilion

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

TV: None, online available on ESPN 3

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

GAME NOTES: DePaul is led in scoring by 5-foot-7 junior Jessica January at 13.8 points a game. Senior Megan Podkowa, a 6-2 senior, is next at 13.1, while 5-5 senior Chanise Jenkins is at 12.3 points. ... All three were starters a year ago when DePaul finished 27-8. ... The talented Blue Demons return nine letter winners from that team, one that was ousted in the second round of the NCAA tournament in a game against the Irish at Notre Dame. ... DePaul named the court at McGrath-Phillips Arena, the home of DePaul women’s basketball, Doug Bruno Court in honor of the Demons’ long-time coach ... Bruno also will be an assistant coach for the United States team at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the USA women’s team.