No. 1 Notre Dame looks to impose its will on Fordham

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The outcome may simply be determined by which team can impose its different will on the other.

That is the scenario for Monday night’s quarterfinal matchup in the preseason WNIT when Fordham comes calling to meet the Notre Dame women’s basketball team at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

“They are a team that really likes to execute their offense. They want to run their stuff. So, yes, I think they will try to slow us down,” said Irish coach Muffet Mcgraw.

The comparison in the two teams opening game makes that a sure bet. The Irish advanced by pasting Central Michigan, 107-47, while Fordham played slow and steady while disposing of Furman, 60-47.

So, can Fordham handle the Irish press? Can the Rams slow the No.1 Notre Dame running and transition game? Those will be key points to watch when the two teams square off.

Notre Dame’s easy victories over Central Michigan and an exhibition pasting of Roberts Wesleyan has allowed McGraw to play several on-court combinations and give plenty of minutes to all the players.

One of those is sophomore Ali Patberg, the former Indiana Miss Basketball who is back on the floor after missing last season with a knee injury. Patberg did not score in either game, but played a sound floor game from her point guard position.

“She’s on track – right where she needs to be,” said McGraw of Patberg’s development after the long layoff. “She is learning the nuances of the offense and learning where everyone needs to get the ball. She is picking things up really well, working hard and I am happy where she is heading.”

McGraw is not concerned that Patberg did not score in her first two games. “Ali is not that kind of point guard right now. She is just trying get settled in and learn her role as a good passer. I think it will be a while before her shot starts coming,” McGraw said.

“I can’t complain. It feels good to be playing again,” said Patberg on Sunday. “I am trying to get used to the flow of the game and moving laterally again and adjust to the game and getting the ball to where the players want it.”

She has played a total of 31 minutes in the first two games (with no turnovers), and says the knee is fine. “I am hard on myself. I have a lot to learn,” she said. “I just want to play my role as a distributor. I am not as aggressive yet as I want to be.”

Patberg, who wears a knee brace, says the brace does not affect her. “The brace is really light and many times I don’t even notice it.” But her teammates notice her and are happy she is back on the floor, contributing as needed.

While Patberg is happy to be back on the floor, standout freshman Jackie Young will miss at least one more game while her thumb heals properly. Young did not suit up against Central Michigan. “She is out for Monday, and questionable for Thursday," said McGraw of Young, who impressed all who saw her with a 15-point, 10 rebound, five assist game in her first collegiate action in the exhibition opener a week ago.

The Irish victory over Central Michigan featured some hard, physical play in the post. “I think teams come in trying to take one person away,” said McGraw. That one person vs. Central Michigan was Brianna Turner. Turner scored 12 points, but played only 19 minutes in the blowout. “We did not get the ball to her as much as we wanted to,” said McGraw.

“Teams find we have a lot of weapons,” she added. The focusing on the Irish inside game allowed “our guards to get loose,” McGraw added. Get loose they did. Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, Lindsay Allen and Mychal Johson made a combined 24 of 33 shots to make the Chippewas’ attention to the post fruitless.

Allen was superb. She scored six points early in each of the first two quarters while taking shots given to her by the defense. “They were giving her a lot of jumpers at the beginning,” said McGraw. “She can make that shot. She is a pass-first point guard but she was very smart to take what they were giving her.”

Fordham is coached by Stephanie Gaitley, now in her sixth season. She has guided her team to 20-win seasons each of the last three years. Danielle Burns and Laudren Holden scored 12 points each to lead Fordham past Furman in the WNIT opener.

Notre Dame's Brianna Turner (11) looks for a shot as Central Michigan's Reyna Frost (13) and Aleah Swary (5) defend during a WNIT matchup on Friday. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)