No. 1 Notre Dame women's basketball adjusting to physical play

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – It will not be a wrestling match, but it sure could resemble one.

That is what the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team expects when it meets Green Bay Thursday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion in the semifinals of the preseason WNIT.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has noticed that the two opponents they have met to date are playing the Irish posts very physical. 

“We need to be physical in return,” she said. “We need to continue to be aggressive (on the inside play). I think it plays into what Koko (Kristina Nelson) and Kat (Kathryn Westbeld) want to do, but Bri (Brianna Turner) is not used to getting beat up so much.”

Despite the heavy pressure, Turner, a preseason All-American selection, has posted solid numbers. She averages 11 points, hitting 10 of 18 shots, and 5.5 rebounds, but has played in only 60 percent of the minutes for those two games.

“I have tried to be more aggressive in practice,” she said, but she doesn’t mind what the emphasis on her can do for the offense. “When there are two or more on me, the guards will be open.” 

There are times that McGraw has aided Turner by using the 6-4 Nelson to help inside. 

“That really does help, because then they can’t really double team both of us,” Turner said.

Heavy inside battling and potential slowdown efforts are likely, yet the physical play is not the only worry the Irish have. Notre Dame knows Green Bay is a distinct step up in quality of play. 

The Phoenix have won 18 consecutive conference titles and have been in the NCAA tournament 16 of those 18 years. 

“They (the Phoenix) are just really smart,'' McGraw said. "They have great chemistry, a really good coach and are a team really nobody wants to play. They are the team nobody wants in their bracket.''

Green Bay advanced to the semifinals by defeating Elon, 71-56, and Little Rock, 57-31. Notre Dame downed Central Michigan, 107-47, and Fordham, 67-36, to reach Thursday’s matchup. Should the Irish win Thursday they will host the WNIT championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Notre Dame stands 14-3 all-time in WNIT games – and they are 12-0 in games played at home.

It is possible that Notre Dame will be at full strength for this contest. Freshman sensation Jackie Young, who has missed the two WNIT games with a thumb injury, was going to try to practice Wednesday.

 “We will know after that,” said McGraw. It is likely to be a game-time decision.

Through the first two games, Notre Dame got to see a few different styles of zone and man-to-man defenses. 

 “It is good experience,'' McGraw said. "It is just what you want this time of year. I am excited about continuing to learn what teams are going to try to do to us.”

One thing is certain. Green Bay has the experience and talent to make this a solid test.

Sophomore Arike Ogunbowale is the early-season scoring leader for Notre Dame, averaging 21.5. Senior Lindsay Allen is next at 13 per game and Marina Mabrey with a 12-point average.

The Irish have held their first two opponents to an average of only 41.5 points a game. 

Notre Dame’s Kristina Nelson (21) puts up a shot during the Fordham at Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Green Bay (2-0).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Thursday at 7 pm. 

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

TV: None. Game can be seen online at WatchESPN.com (formerly ESPN 3) or through the WatchESPN app.tv

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) in South Bend

GAME NOTES: When Lindsay Allen gets the starting nod Thursday, it will be her 115th straight for the Irish, a Notre Dame record ... Green Bay is coached by Kevin Boreth, who is in his second tour of duty with the Phoenix. He left and coached at the University of Michigan before returning to Green Bay. He has compiled a career record of 323-85 ... Mehryn Kraker is Green Bay’s leading scorer at 16 points a game. She is followed by Jessica Lindstrom (10.5) and Allie LeClaire (10.0).