Board game a worry for Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Sometimes help comes in surprising ways.

When Florida State’s women’s basketball team was upset by Syracuse last Thursday, it definitely helped make the path to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship easier for Notre Dame.

“You have to look at it (the upset) two different ways,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw remarked. “They lost so they are going to be angry. It will refocus them and make them hard to stop.”

Before the Seminoles were upset, the Monday night matchup in Florida looked like it could be for the lead in the ACC. Right now the Irish are sailing at 25-1 and 13-0 in conference play, a game ahead of Louisville (12-1). Florida Sate was 11-1 before the loss to Syracuse and had it beaten Notre Dame, there would have been a virtual three-way tie atop the standings.

The Irish, riding an 18-game win streak, now have a bit more breathing room, knowing their earlier victory over Louisville would still give them the No. 1 seed in the ACC tourney even if they lose to Florida State. Of course all teams involved have to win their final games of the year.

But the Irish goal all year was to complete a perfect conference season, and only three games remain —  Monday's test at Florida State and two home games next week against Clemson and Boston College.

A key Monday against the Seminoles will be the ability of Notre Dame to control the boards. Florida State leads the ACC in rebounding margin at +14.2.

“Rebounding has been an emphasis for us all year,” Irish point guard Lindsay Allen said. “It’s a matter of boxing out and getting a body on people. It’s work. Rebounding is mostly effort.

McGraw noted an interesting fact.

“In 50 games, they have only been out-rebounded twice. Both times it was us, last season. We are capable. We need to have our guards help.''

Allen leads the ACC in assists at 5.42 per game. 

“Florida State works to make you get off a shot,” Allen said. “We will have to be sharing the ball and making the extra pass. It will be a very physical game. They will try to push us out and try to make us uncomfortable offensively.”

McGraw worries about another staple that has led to Florida State’s success. Shakayla Thomas, a 5-11 sophomore is a headache, leading Florida State in scoring at 17.1 points a game. 

“She is so strong, quick and can jump,'' McGraw said. "We don’t have a matchup for her. We are going to struggle to keep her off the glass. It has to be a team focus. The game will be a big challenge. They are a Top 10 team.”

Allen feels the Irish are fresh and ready. 

“It definitely helps we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. It’s our last three games and everyone is getting excited for the ACC tourney. It has been a great season so far. We have achieved what we wanted to and we have gotten better. The freshmen are performing very well and everyone is playing their role now.''

McGraw feels the same. “Our team is refocused. The seniors are counting the minutes. Only three games left. We played well against Miami and at Wake Forest. We are starting to peak. Any of our first seven can lead us in scoring. All have had big games. It makes us hard to guard,” she said.

The Irish are first in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage at .406 and third in field goal defense, limiting opponents to .369 shooting.

North Carolina’s Xylina McDaniel (34) competes for a rebound with Notre Dame’s Hannah Huffman (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

WHO: No. 2/3 Notre Dame 25-1 (13-0) vs. No. 9/10 Florida State 21-5 (11-2).

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

WHERE: Tucker Center, Tallahasee, Fla.

TELEVISION: ESPN2

INTERNET: ESPN3

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

GAME NOTES: Florida State is coached by Sue Semrau, in her 18th season at Florida State. Semrau and Notre Dame associate head coach Carol Owens are from Northern Illinois University. Owens played in 1990, and Semrau arrived on that campus then as an assistant coach ... Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox, played basketball at Notre Dame from 1997-81 ... After Shaykala Thomas' 17.1 points a game, the Seminoles leading scorers include Adut Bulgak, a 6-foot-4 senior, at 13.5; Leticia Romero, a 5-8 junior, at 10.5 and Brittany Brown, a 5-8 junior, at 9.4 ... For ND, after Brianna Turner's team-leading scoring average of 14.2 comes Madison Cable at 13.5, and freshmen Arike Ogunbowale (12) and Marina Mabrey (11.4). Lindsay Allen is at 9.1 and sophomore Kathryn Westbeld at 8.3.