Notre Dame's Brianna Turner back in time for ACC challenge

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — When the Notre Dame women’s basketball team takes the floor at Purcell Pavilion Wednesday night, the Irish players will be wearing huge targets.

The targets, of course, are not of the visible variety, but No. 3-ranked Notre Dame knows after winning the regular season and postseason tournament in each of its first two years in the Atlantic Coast Conference, every opponent will want a piece of the Irish.

Coach Muffet McGraw’s team has lost only one ACC regular season or tourney game in two years, that one an upset at Miami in December, 2014.

“It’s such a tough league,” McGraw said. “We need to be focused and ready to play.”

First up in ACC play will be Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Yellow Jackets are 10-3 and coached by former Purdue star Machelle Joseph.

Notre Dame found a sense of urgency Monday night, using standout defensive play to save a victory, 62-61, over Oregon State.

It came a little late for McGraw's taste.

“When we are up by 13, I want to put our foot on their throat and make it 30,” she said of her team, referring to Monday night’s victory.

The return to major playing time for Brianna Turner gives the Irish a huge lift, just at the right time. After missing six games with a shoulder injury Turner played 32 minutes and was active on both ends of the floor in Monday’s victory.

The ACC preseason player of the year is on every team’s scouting report for her play on both ends of the floor.

“I don’t think about pressure,'' she said Tuesday after practice. "I just want to help our team any way I can.”

The Irish need her to do a little bit of everything.

Three ACC teams (plus the Irish) had only one loss entering Monday’s action, and Duke and Florida State, despite three losses each, are ranked in the top 25 — as is Miami, a surprise team thus far with its 12-1 record.

“I felt good Monday,” said Turner after her 32 minutes of play. “When I was injured I was able to keep running and doing sprints, so my conditioning was OK.”

Turner had four blocks and a handful of tipped passes that bothered the Oregon State offense.

“I missed a couple of easy layins,” Turner added, “but I tried to make up for it with my defense.”

Notre Dame will return to its four-guard attack, according to McGraw.

I“We have been pretty on offense, but we weren’t pretty last night (vs. Oregon State),'' she said. "They (the players) know that and they worked on it (Tuesday) in practice.”

The close margin of victory Monday was beneficial at least in one way.

“It does help us to know we can win a grind-it-out game,” McGraw added.

The Irish will throw their well-balanced offense at Georgia Tech. The Irish have five players scoring in double figures and a sixth, Lindsay Allen, averages 9.9.

Madison Cable leads Notre Dame at 15.8 points, with Marina Mabrey next at 13.4. Arike Ogunbowale averages 11.4, Turner 11.2 and Kathryn Westbeld 10.2. Westbeld and Turner are the team’s leading rebounders at 6.0 per game.

After the meeting with Georgia Tech at home on Wednesday, Notre Dame plays at Pittsburgh on Sunday and at Virginia Thursday before returning home for a Sunday afternoon (Jan. 10) meeting with North Carolina.

Notre Dame's Brianna Turner (11) tries to get around the Oregon State defense during the second half, Monday December 28, 2015, in South Bend. (Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)
Notre Dame's Brianna Turner (11) handles the ball against Oregon State, Monday December 28, 2015, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame (11-1) vs. Georgia Tech (10-3)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

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

ONLINE: ESPN 3 and WatchND.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend and at Watch ND

GAME NOTES: Georgia Tech coach Machelle Joseph is the winningest coach in Yellow Jacket history. . . She entered the season with a record of 232-149. She graduated from Dekalb (Indiana) High School and played at Purdue from 1989-92, where she was a four-year starter ... She was the Big 10 player of the year her senior season ... Aaliyah Whiteside, a 6-foot senior, is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 20.1 points and 7.5 boards. Roddreka Rogers, a 6-0 senior is next at 12.9 and 7.2, while 6-3 junior Katarina Vuckovic is at 9.8 and 5.6. ... Should the Irish win, it will be the 799th career victory for Irish head coach Muffet McGraw.