Muffet McGraw likes direction as Notre Dame women hit road

Ken Klimek
Tribune Corresondent

SOUTH BEND – There is sizeable new piece of hardware sitting on an end table in the lobby of the Notre Dame women’s basketball offices. It is, of course, the championship trophy from the WNIT preseason tourney that the Irish won Sunday, by defeating Washington.

Other accolades are coming in. Monday it was announced that Arike Ogunbowale was the ESPNW national player of the week for her 78-point offensive production during the four games of the WNIT.

So head coach Muffet McGraw is wearing a smile.

“I like where we are right now for early in the season,’’ before getting her team ready for a Tuesday night matchup in Houston against Louisiana Lafayette. “We have plenty of things to work on but we are heading in the right direction. A lot of people are playing well.”

The Irish continued to be the No. 1 team in the nation. Yet McGraw wouldn’t mind if they dropped a notch.

“I would be happy if Connecticut got No. 1 right now. I would be happy to play with a chip on our shoulder instead of with a target on our back.”

The game Tuesday night in Houston is actually a Notre Dame home game, scheduled to be a homecoming for junior Brianna Turner, who lived and played high school basketball near there.

“We were trying to get to Texas every year,” said McGraw. “We played at TCU last year, but unfortunately that was when Bri couldn’t play (shoulder injury). We are so thankful to the University of Louisiana Lafayette. Everybody else near there turned us down.”

Turner is upbeat about the opportunity to play near her home, in front of family and friends.

“My parents attend some games here (South Bend), but maybe there will be about 100 there,” Turner told Notre Dame associate sports information director Leigh Torbin as the Irish were preparing for their Monday afternoon flight.

Lafayette has played only one game this season, defeating McNeese, 77-70.

McGraw knows that wherever the Irish play, they have a gem in Turner.

“The thing I love about Bri is the way she is battling through adversity,’’ McGraw said. “Teams are double-teaming her, really being physical with her. They are jamming her on every single cut. Nothing is coming easy for her but she continues to battle.’’

McGraw is hoping for more from Turner, who is averaging 11.5 points a game. More shots would lead to more points.

The recently-announced national player of the week award that Ogunbowale learned of Monday pleased McGraw.

“The great thing is the way Arike came back this summer,’’ McGraw said. “She went home and worked really hard on her game. She improved her 3-point shooting. She is a different player this year. She is really comfortable, in rhythm and shooting the ball extremely well. I am glad her hard work paid off and she is seeing some reward for it.’’

Ogunbowale is the team’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game.

The smile that McGraw is wearing comes in part because so many of her players are producing well. Freshman Jackie Young is one of those.

“Jackie Young is going to be a great player for us. She will be one of the best to ever come out of here. She can defend. She can be the lock down defender. She is going to be able to guard the other team’s best player. She can score. She is not shooting the ball as much as I would like but she will when she figures it all out.”

Young has played in only two of the four Irish games, averaging 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 18 minutes per game.

Then there is the Notre Dame iron woman – senior Lindsay Allen. She has played in all 40 minutes of the last two games and McGraw knows she needs to be given some rest.

“I really need to take Lindsay out, but she makes it so much easier for me when she is in,” said McGraw, adding that “Mychal Johnson is ready — if just for a few minutes a quarter. She is able to do it.”

Notre Dame will be without sophomore Ali Patberg, who contues to battle a virus and did not travel with the team.

“She is getting antibiotics and I hope we have her back after Thanksgiving,” said McGraw.

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. Louisiana Lafayette (1-0).

WHERE: Campbell Center, Houston, Texas

WHEN: Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST.

INTERNET/TV: None.

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

GAME NOTES: This will be the first time the two schools have met in women’s basketball. ... Lafayette is coached by Garry Broadhead, now in his fifth season with the Ragin Cajuns. He led the team to 20-plus victories in each of the last two seasons. ... In Lafayette’s only game this season, 6-foot-0 junior Simone Fields scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while teammate Jaylyn Gordon, a 5-5 senior, added 26 points. ... After the Tuesday night matchup, Notre Dame returns home to play TCU at 1 p.m. Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.