Depth key for Notre Dame women against TCU

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Early Friday afternoon, Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw was looking forward to spending time in her sanctuary.

And that means the practice floor at Notre Dame as her team gets ready to meet unbeaten TCU Saturday at 1 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

“We are way behind,'' McGraw said. "I have a lot of things I have to put in. I am waiting for them to get good at what we have done. It is taking longer than I thought. We need to practice more.''

She will have a hard time convincing much of the women’s basketball nation that is truly the case. The Irish are ranked No. 1, recently won the preseason WNIT tournament and stand 5-0.

McGraw knows what to expect from the Horned Frogs, 4-0. Strangely enough it will be the sixth straight game where the opponent comes up against the Irish with an unblemished record.

“They are really athletic,'' McGraw said. "Everyone shoots the three. They want to pressure and will press us full court. They play a lot of defenses and like to run so it will be a very up-tempo game.''

But up-tempo usually plays into the hands of the Irish, among the fastest teams in transition in the nation. Notre Dame loves to get out and go.

The Irish feature three players scoring in double figures and two more just a whisker away. Sophomores Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey lead the way with 17.4 and 13.6 averages, followed by junior Brianna Turner at 12.4 (and 7.8 rebounds each game).

Mabrey was spectacular in the Tuesday night victory over Louisiana Lafayette in Texas. She scored a game-high and career-high 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including 4-for-7 from the 3-point line.

“She needed a game like that,” said McGraw. “She shot the ball extremely well and I thought her defense was much better than it has been. Overall, she played a really good game.”

Even though the season is still early, McGraw is happy with her current rotation. Junior Mychal Johnson, freshman Jackie Young and senior Kristina Nelson are the first three off the bench.

Normally McGraw doesn’t settle on a rotation until about January. It might be different this season.

“Mychal gives us great minutes,'' McGraw said. "Jackie and Koko (Nelson) are giving us great minutes. I think we are good where we are.''

Another freshman, Erin Boley continues to vie for playing time.

“She is a great shooter,” McGraw said. “She is just trying to find her way. She is going to help us when she figures things out. We are playing eight people a lot of minutes right now. It is hard to play nine. But there will be plenty of opportunity for her (Boley) to get into the rotation.”

Already, McGraw considers this "the deepest team I’ve ever had.''

TCU is coached by Reagan Pebley, in her third season with the Horned Frogs. She led TCU to the postseason WNIT tourney each of the last two seasons and led Fresno State into the NCAA tournament her two years there before switching to TCU.

The Horned Frogs boast seven players over 6-foot tall.

But the key may be the time McGraw got with her players in practice.

“We have had too many games,'' she said. “I just don’t think I’ve done a very good job of pacing what we are putting in.”

There won’t be much rest for the Irish after TCU. After this sixth game in 15 days, Notre Dame takes to the road Wednesday for a clash against Iowa.

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (5-0) vs. TCU (4-0)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Saturday at 1 p.m.

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

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

INTERNET: WatchND.com.

NOTING: Notre Dame sophomore point guard Ali Patberg is expected to miss her third consecutive game. She continues to battle a virus and is on the sick list. ... Senior Lindsay Allen is in fifth place in all-time assists at Notre Dame with 593. Ahead of her in fourth place is Mollie Peirick with 651. ... This is the third meeting between the two schools, with Notre Dame standing at 2-0 vs. the Horned Frogs. The Irish won in 1990 and last season at TCU without Brianna Turner. ... The Horned Frogs are led by 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore Amy Okonkwo (14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds). Next are 6-3 sophomore Jordan Moore at 11.0 and 5-10 senior Jada Butts at 10.0