Legendary coaches square off in Notre Dame-UNC matchup

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — After playing its most complete game of the season Thursday at Virginia, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will want more of the same when it takes on North Carolina Sunday in a matchup at Purcell Pavilion.

The story lines for this meeting are many.

Two of the greatest coaches in the college women’s game will be matching wits — Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw. Between the two, they have piled up 1,774 victories with Hatchell at 973 and McGraw 801. Hatchell’s total is second only to legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (1,098) in the women’s game.

Hatchell was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, while McGraw is on the ballot this year.

The arena will be jammed for this one. McGraw will be honored for reaching her 800th victory last week during a brief ceremony right before the opening tipoff.

But all those victories will be set aside for 40 minutes when the Tar Heels (12-5 and 2-0) square off with the No. 3-ranked Irish (14-1 and 2-0). It’s a huge ACC game and ESPN2 has the telecast.

The Irish indeed were impressive in a Thursday victory over Virginia, posting their seventh straight victory and outrebounding the Cavaliers, 45-28, an ingredient McGraw has been looking for during the past several weeks. Notre Dame had a huge 38-4 advantage in points in the paint.

The return of sophomore Brianna Turner has been critical for Notre Dame. She had 19 points and nine rebounds in the last Irish outing and her inside defense helped hold Virginia to only 29.6 percent shooting from the field. The Cavs totaled only 31 points for the final three quarters.

North Carolina started sluggishly, but has won its last six games, including its first two in conference play.

Notre Dame freshman Arike Ogunbowale has been solid in many areas.

McGraw predicted before the season began that freshman Arike Ogunbowale would lead the team in free throws because of her aggressiveness with the ball in her hands. Ogunbowale is doing just that, shooting 64 free throws in the 15 games. The freshman has converted 41 of the 64 for 64 percent.

“I owe my toughness to my parents and my two older brothers,” said Ogunbowale, who is fearless on her drives to the basket. “We were all physical when we were young, and in AAU ball I always played like two years above my real age,” she said.

“She has great strength and body control,” said McGraw even before the season started. “She is not afraid to take the ball inside.”

Ogunbowale said her coach at times has sent her into the game, telling her “we need to get to the basket.”

“It comes naturally I guess,” said Ogunbowale. "Because I am stronger, I can post up other guards. So I try to see the floor and just take it to the basket.”

Ogunbowale is one of four Notre Dame players averaging in double figures. She is at 11.3 points a game, trailing Madison Cable (15.1), Turner (14.0) and fellow freshman Marina Mabrey (12.8).Turner leads the Irish in rebounding at 6.0 per game, while sophomore Kathryn Westbeld (9.5 points) grabs 5.9 boards per outing. Junior captain Lindsay Allen scores at 9.3 points.

Ogunbowale plays with an air of confidence.

McGraw noted during the early season that it would take until January or February for her team to gel. The Irish lost Taya Reimer for personal reasons in December for the rest of the season and lost Turner for six games at Thanksgiving time. So another outing like the one at Virginia would be good balm for what had ailed the Irish.

The Irish and the Tar Heels like the up-tempo pace to their offense and the Irish are at their best when running and feeding fast-breaks from their pressure defense. McGraw has used a myriad of half-court defenses, changing from man-to-man, zone and even a triangle and two (against Georgia Tech). But it’s the high-energy, full-court pressure that often fuels the offensive spurts.

Notre Dame freshman Arike Ogunbowale (2) leads the Irish in free throw attempts, thanks to some strong moves to the hoop. The Irish host North Carolina on Sunday. (AP Photo/KEITH SRAKOCIC)

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame 14-1 (2-0) vs. North Carolina 12-5 (2-0).

WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m. (EST).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion

TICKETS: Very limited. Available by calling (574) 631-7356, going online to UND.com/buytickets or visiting the Gate 8 ticket windows today.

TV: ESPN 2

ONLINE: ESPN 3/watchESPN

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

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

GAME NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series with North Carolina 4-1, winning last year 89-79 ... North Carolina is led in scoring by 5-foot-8 sophomore Jamie Cherry at 15.0 points. A 5-10 freshman, Destiny Walker adds 14.9 points, with 5-11 freshman Stephanie Watts next at 13.4 points per game. ... Tar Heels Coach Sylvia Hatchell was an assistant coach with U.S. gold-medal winning Olympic team in 1988. She led North Carolina to the national title in 1994. She has posted 31 20-win seasons and six 30-win seasons. She was named the national coach of the year on three different occasions. ...  Her 973 career victories as a women’s coach are more than any active women’s coach.