Notre Dame women prepare for shorthanded test against 8-1 Toledo

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – It was a different kind of week, but it was busy.

The No. 2-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team completed a week of final exams while coach Muffet McGraw was on the road recruiting.

Sunday, the Irish take step number two on a record-setting six-game road swing when they play at Toledo at 2 p.m.

“We are not allowed to practice (during finals week),” said McGraw. “It was a good time to get out and see a lot of high school games.”

Notre Dame, 9-1 and winners of 21 straight following final exams, will have to get its mindset focused quickly. Toledo is waiting with an 8-1 record. The only blemish was a two-point loss to No. 8 UCLA. The Rockets will be the eighth team in 11 games to face the Irish with no more than one loss.

And the Irish will be a bit short-handed Sunday and maybe beyond.

“Jackie (Young) is still doubtful. I am really disappointed in her progress,” said McGraw.

Young, a freshman, has been impressive in the early season, but injured her ankle late in the loss to Connecticut and did not play a week ago against DePaul.

“I really want to get her back. It’s day to day,” McGraw added. “We missed her at DePaul. You saw a lot of things she could have helped with, especially defense on (Jessica) January, who really went off on us at at the end of the game.”

Junior Mychal Johson and freshman Erin Boley will be called upon to help fill the void left if Young does not play.

“I thought Mychal played really well at DePaul,'' said McGraw. "And I expect Erin to get a lot more minutes now. It is a great opportunity for her. She gave us 18 good minutes at DePaul and I think she wants to contribute a bit more.''

The Irish are also still without Ali Patberg, who has not been cleared to play following a bout with walking pneumonia. So when the Irish face the Rockets they likely will have only nine players dressed.

The Irish are taking these road games in two-game increments.

After Toledo, they will not return home but go to East Lansing, for a Tuesday night matchup with Michigan State. They will do the same later in the month for a two-game swing to Chattanooga and North Carolina State.

“It’s a little like an NCAA tourney where you play every other day. I think it will be good for us,” McGraw said. “We have the third longest streak in the country of road wins (12),” said McGraw. “So I think this is a team that knows how to handle road games.”

The Irish will be the highest ranked team ever to play in the John F. Savage Arena, Toledo’s home court.

Despite the potential absence of Young and Patberg, Notre Dame still has plenty of weapons to throw at Toledo.

Sophomore Arike Ogunbowale still leads the Irish in scoring with a 16.6 per-game mark. Brianna Turner is next at 13.8 (and 7.3 rebounds each outing).

McGraw is not satisfied with the offense.

“We need to score more (currently averaging 82.2 points a game),'' she said. "We need to shoot it better (48.5 percent). The biggest thing is we are missing a lot of easy shots. The shot selection is OK, but we have to shoot 50 percent from the floor. I think we are getting most of the shots we want, but are just not making them.''

The long road trip will present its challenges.

“It is difficult for the players,” McGraw said. “They have the exhilaration of being done with finals and they want to be getting ready for Christmas, but now we have a little work to do in between.''

That work begins in earnest Sunday against the Rockets.

Notre Dame's Mychal Johnson (14) puts up a shot over Green Bay's Mehryn Kraker (10), Thursday, November 17, 2016. Tribune Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (9-1) vs. Toledo (8-1).

WHERE: John F. Savage Arena, Toledo, Ohio, 7,500.

WHEN: Sunday at 2 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

INTERNET: 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