Notre Dame looking for better shooting against Duke

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – If it was a baseball season, they'd call it the ''dog days.''

That time when legs can get a little tired and psyches a little weak.

But games still need to be won.

“We are not quite seeing the tournaments yet, and mentally can get kind of drained,” Notre Dame head women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw acknowledged, heading into Monday's night's ESPN2 game at Duke, a perennial power that's struggling a bit at 16-6 and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The No. 3 Irish — 20-1 and 8-0 in the ACC — are riding a 13-game winning streak and are in a position with eight games to go to secure No. 1 seeds for both in the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament.

But there's still work to do.

The Irish offense looked sluggish in a 54-42 victory at Georgia Tech Thursday. Entering that game as the top 3-point shooting team in the nation, Notre Dame connected on only two of 18 from beyond the arc. The Irish shot only 37 percent that evening and the 54 points was a season low.

But the Irish defense held Georgia Tech to only 22 percent shooting on its home floor. Over the the last seven outings, the Irish have held opponents to below a 52-point average. That coincides with the return of Brianna Turner from a shoulder injury. Without her, the Irish allowed an average of 76.8 points.

Her defense in the middle will be key against Duke, which has suffered three losses to ranked teams South Carolina, Kentucky and Louisville.

Madison Cable, who had been the leading Notre Dame scorer through the first 19 games, hit for only five points combined in the last two outings. She had been battling an illness.

But Cable “... is continuing to get better day by day,” said Notre Dame assistant media relations director Chris Masters on Sunday. “We can’t say she will be at full strength for Duke, but we do anticipate she will be able to play, assuming nothing changes between now and Monday night.”

Cable, a fifth-year player and emotional leader on both ends of the floor, adds 5.3 rebounds to her 13.2 scoring average. She is ranked second in the nation in 3-point shooting (.474).

Notre Dame, as a team, is third in the nation in field-goal percentage at .496.

Just as the Irish need Cable, they will need a strong game from the 6-foot-3 sophomore Turner, who has been dominant in recent outings.

Turner is “an intimidator inside,” said McGraw. “She not only blocks shots, she alters shots and even prevents players from attempting their shots.”

Turner now leads the Irish in scoring (14.1 per game), rebounding (5.8) and blocked 53 shots (4.6).

Duke, coached by Joanna McCallie, has won its last four contests.

Duke has impressive size, featuring 6-6 sophomore Azura Stevens (19.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) and 6-4 junior Oderah Chidom, along with 6-1 redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell (14.5 points, 5.3 rebounds).

The Irish depth and balanced scoring has been a major factor in the team’s success. Six players average nine points a game or more and four are in double figures. Additionally, the Notre Dame bench has outscored its opponents by some 17 points a game.

So this Monday test at Durham could set the tone for the pivotal month of February. Notre Dame has won 26 consecutive games in February and is unbeaten in 12 ESPN Big Monday games.

Following Monday’s game, the Irish return home to meet North Carolina State on Thursday.

Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw talks to her team during a second half timeout against Oregon State, Monday December 28, 2015, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ BECKY MALEWITZ

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame 20-1 (8-0) vs. Duke 16-6 (5-3).

WHEN: Monday at 6 pm (EST)

WHERE: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C

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

TV: ESPN2

INTERNET: ESPN3 and watchnd.tv

GAME NOTES: Notre Dame leads the series, 11-1. The Irish have won the last nine ... Freshmen Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale continue to play well for the Irish. Mabrey scores at a 12.1 clip, with Ogunbowale at 11.2. ... Duke Coach Joanne McCallie is in her ninth year with the Blue Devils. She coached previously for seven years at Michigan State and eight years at Maine. She played college basketball for Northwestern ... McCallie is a three-time ACC coach of the year and led Duke to four consecutive ACC titles in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2013.