Rested Irish take on strong-rebounding Oregon St.

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Healthier and rested, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team returns to action Monday night for only its second game in 16 days.

It could be a post-Christmas honey.

Coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish will host No. 11 Oregon State at Purcell Pavilion, the fifth ranked team for No. 3 Notre Dame in its first 12 games.

“I like playing a tough schedule,” McGraw said. “It gets us ready for ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) play and the (NCAA) tournament in March.”

Former Notre Dame All-American Ruth Riley seconded her former coach’s opinion.

“It’s all be design,” Riley said in a recent interview. “It shows coach what needs to be perfected, what needs to be worked on.”

Now carrying a 10-1 record, the Irish know what they need to be cognizant of against Oregon State.

The Beavers are 9-1 with only a three-point loss to 14th-ranked Tennessee blemishing their record. And OSU is leading the nation in defensive rebounds per game (35) and is second in the nation in rebound margin at +19.2.

The expected return of significant minutes from sophomore Brianna Turner should help Notre Dame considerably in the rebounding department. Sidelined for six games with a shoulder injury, Turner returned to the starting lineup in last Monday’s 91-55 victory over St. Joseph’s.

After Christmas break, the Notre Dame players returned to practice on Saturday, but feel they can play well with a two-post lineup (including Turner) or with a four-guard smaller lineup.

“We had some time to work on it,” said grad student Madison Cable, the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points a game.

“When we play the four-guard, it spreads defenses out and lets us open the floor for drives or shots,” said senior Michaela Mabrey last week while she was ringing bells to help raise money for the Salvation Army. “And we have so many who can score.”

Through the first 11 games, the Irish have five other players, in addition to Cable, scoring in double figures. Freshman Marina Mabrey is at 13.5, fellow freshman Arike Ogunbowale at 11.9, Turner at 11.8, sophomore Kathryn Westbeld at 10.9 (and a team-leading 6.0 rebounds) and junior point guard Lindsay Allen, who scores at 10.1 and leads the team in assists with 62.

The Irish are a prolific scoring bunch, their 87.3 points a game the fourth-highest average in the nation. Using their spread offense efficiently, Notre Dame is first in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at .463.

“When Brianna is healthy, we will use the two-post offense,” McGraw said. “But we are not afraid to shift to and use the four-guard when needed.”

The schedule gets very busy in the coming weeks for Notre Dame, who now have started 10-1 for five straight seasons. After Monday’s meeting against Oregon State, the Irish host Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the ACC opener.

Oregon State a year ago won a school-record 27 games and again has its sights set on the Pac-12 championship and a strong seed in the NCAA tourney.

The Irish bench, a significant weapon all season, will be counted on once again against the Beavers. The Notre Dame reserves are averaging 34.9 points a game, compared to only 15.3 for all Notre Dame opponents.

Though McGraw said she was “extremely happy” with her team’s play through the first third of the season, she and her staff are hoping the injury bug will stay away so the team can fashion more consistency as the schedule wears on.

The veteran coach enters the game against Oregon State needing three more victories to become only the 10th NCAA Division 1 coach to register 800 victories. McGraw’s career record is 797-263 (.752), including a mark of 709-222 (.762) in her 29 years at Notre Dame.

Following the home games against Oregon State and Georgia Tech, the Irish will travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday, and to Virginia on Jan. 7, before returning home to meet North Carolina on Jan. 10.

Notre Dame guard Marina Mabrey (right) continues to be among the leading scores for the Irish. (AP Photo/LAURENCE KESTERSON)